Logically, as games become more complex it'll be harder to convince the average person to jump in and try them. Some games, however, exist as great equalizers and can instantly appeal to anyone because of their simple, addicting design. Super Monkey Ball Touch and Roll is the continuation of such a series. If you understand the concept of balancing a ball on a floating track so it doesn't fall into the infinite depths below, then you can tackle this primate puzzler.
Why is jumping in so easy? There are no button commands to stumble over. Using the touch screen, you tilt and roll a monkey trapped in a hamster wheel to a clearly-labled goal within the time limit. The clock, in fact, is your only true enemy. You'll have to decide second by second if you want to blaze through and risk falling off the maze or take it slow as the timer clicks away. Going slow gives you more time to nab precious bananas - grab enough and you're rewarded with, what else, an extra life. Touch and Roll is overly generous with its fruit, making it possible to rack up extra lives in short order.
The avant-garde, disorienting maze design balances the easy-one-upping by turning your hands into white-knuckled masses of sweaty flesh. Rotating, interlocking gears, spiraling towers that slowly narrow and become razor thin ... if you have a nightmare about geometric shapes, it's in here somewhere. More than once you'll see a stage layout and cuss out loud at the screen; most of the later puzzles are so fiendishly conceived they seem more like a military stress test than a game.
Headaches, though, are part of the experience. The levels are total brain-rotters in the best possible way. But something that was never a problem on the console games, control, is now an unsuspected hindrance. You get used to the stylus control, but something always feels a little off. A good chunk of the 100 levels are retreads from earlier games, including some that were never hard. Using the touch screen, we had a bitch of a time on a few puzzles that would've been solved in one try with an analog controller.
Multiplayer has always been a draw for Monkey tomfoolery, and there're six ready to go from the start. Racing and the Hungry Hungry Hippos-esque Monkey Fight are bland, but mini golf and the first-person Monkey War are a blast. An air hockey recreation and so-so bowling sim can't supply the same drinking-game fervor of the console parties, but for a handheld they'll do fine.
It takes all of 10 seconds to understand but countless hours to perfect. Is there a better recipe for a portable game? Just remember how much the DS costs before you launch it across the room in frustration.