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Super Monkey Ball 3DS hands-on preview

You think Sega had any idea that way back in the GameCube days of 200X that Monkey Ball would be the go-to franchise for showcasing new hardware? Day one for Wii: Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz. Apple needs a game to champion the accelerometer in its new phone? Monkey Ball was there too. Our preexisting love for AiAi and Gon Gon aside, you could argue that the series was strangely, unwittingly, ahead of its time. Very soon, it’s set to launch yet another platform, and it’s bringing a new technical feat along with it: 3D, baby!

Were there any doubts? Monkey Ball takes to Nintendo’s new dimension amazingly well. Better still, it breathes new life into those relatively simplistic floating, checkerboard slides and chutes we’re all familiar with by now. It really is a fantastic little 3D showcase - every corner, every obstacle, and yes, every banana - is clearly defined, plus Monkey’s Ball’s trademarked pastel vibrancy is a veritable feast for the eyeballs.

That said, seeing it displayed that way was absolutely more important to me than playing the game with tilt-controls via the gyroscope. I really hope you folks aren’t depending on me to explain how the 3DS works, but know this: You can’t have both. Seeing the 3D is relative to the position of the screen facing your eyes, meaning you can’t see it in 3D if you’re tilting the system this way and that. I cared more about the 3D, so I didn’t even bother with the tilt controls and outside of my “Journalistic Responsibilities!” I don’t regret for a second. For one, I loved the 3DS analog stick, furthermore, I was overjoyed with the beautiful colors being blasted in my face at 60fps, only now with an added dimension!

The meat of the game is largely unchanged, although it appears to have a renewed focus on what’s truly important to Super Monkey Ball. That frustration I felt trying to complete the later GameCube levels? Not a factor here. Stages are much friendlier to simply complete so as to progress through the worlds. However, the hardcore among you still have the option to replay levels for better times and even hunt for hidden items including, most notably, special stage-specific bananas.

Going back and collecting stuff isn’t just for bragging rights, kid. Certain achievements will unlock a myriad of extra caboodle, like say, a new ride in Monkey Race mode. Oh yeah, so while previous Monkey Balls have been known for a crapload of minigames (mostly forgettable) the 3DS version is taking two of them and blowing them into their own full-bodied areas.

So beyond revisiting the MB you already know, you’re getting two new full-fledged modes. Monkey Race is exactly what you’d expect, a kart racer, albeit a much more substantial version than any four-wheeled aside you’ve played previously in the franchise. Sad as I was upon being told that Monkey Fight mode didn’t involve monkey’s pounding each other with spring-loaded boxing gloves straight out of the ACME catalog, that frown quickly turned upside down once it was revealed to be a primal version of Smash Bros! With numerous characters and customizable settings, the vast array of play options applied to any given monkey brawl could make for a ridiculous amount of personalized variations for you and your buddies. (I only played it on Basic mode via wireless multiplayer.)

In that sub-mode, four players duked it out while, literally, knocking the bananas out of each other using combos, grabs, light and heavy attacks. Your goal is to be the monkey who’s collected the most bananas at the end of a round, but timing when to grab bananas that appear or get knocked out of other players should be taken into careful consideration amidst all the primal chaos and power up drops occurring on screen.

I’m a huge fan of the original Super Monkey Ball games, and as an even bigger fan of cartoony, bright colors, I can’t think of a better showcase in terms of 3D gameplay.

Mar 10, 2011