Having started out as a very original arcade game that then mutated, via an astonishingly difficult sequel, into a fairly gimmicky collection of multiplayer minigames and – surprise! – the odd bit of monkey balling, it’s always interesting to see just how far Sega’s simple, classic Super Monkey Ball has rolled from its hardcore gaming roots.
As anyone who ever tried rolling down the thinnest guitar string on Advanced 11 in the first game will attest, Monkey Ball had a level of brutality reminiscent of the most unforgiving coin-ops of the 8-bit era. Even ten years ago, it was a throwback to a time when pure gameplay ruled over visual thrills.
Lately, though, it feels like a different sort of thing altogether. Whether it’s the failure of repeated sequels to add anything that makes a genuine improvement to the original formula, or simply over-familiarity with the Monkey Ball ‘brand’ in general, it’s been a while since one of these games was a genuinely exciting prospect.
The first Wii version – Banana Blitz, released in 2006 – featured wider paths through the levels to compensate for its comparatively imprecise controls. It was a necessary design decision, since nobody was likely to be able to roll down something like those guitar strings by tilting the remote.
In Step & Roll the courses are even wider. This would make it the easiest Monkey Ball ever if you could play it with the Nunchuk’s analogue stick, but that isn’t an option. The main control method uses the balance board, which is great for doing yoga exercises and the least accurate controller ever devised for arcade games.
The tiny movements that would ease your wobbling ape around a treacherous hairpin bend in Monkey Balls of old simply can’t be achieved when you have to shift your entire body weight. Instead, when you make a correction to stop the monkey veering off to one side, you may be surprised to find you’re applying too much force, making the ball steer too sharply, or not enough, at which point it’s far too easy to overcompensate and lose all semblance of control.