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Super Monkey Ball Touch and Roll review

Monkeys meet their match

Super Monkey Ball and Nintendo's DS are two sides of the same coin; the software and hardware expressions of the same idea. Both Nagoshi and Iwata thought that gaming had become too complex, that elaborate control schemes and bloated game design were exhausting current players and alienating potential newcomers.

One took his vision from the arcade to the GameCube, using its stick to create a single, irresistible point of contact between the player and his game. The other turned to his R&D labs, and built an entire machine around the same concept. Which is why having that machine play host to this game is such a tantalising notion.

The reality is sourer. The game keeps its purity of control, using the stylus as a giant stick that can be dragged around the lower screen to determine the direction and extent of each level's tilt. Full D-pad control is also available.

It works, no question, although the close-up image of the monkey ball itself on the lower screen gives a misleading impression of how the stylus functions. Better to fly blind - Monkey Ball was always a vertiginous game; now 'don't look down' is even better advice.

The problem comes from much of the level design. DS Monkey Ball's control scheme is best at sinuous curves, worst at sharp changes of direction, but the game inherits both the elegant restrained level designs of the original game and the flawed, over-complicated gimmicks of the second.

Getting monkey into position, and camera into position behind him, in time to make your desperate dash for a whirling mechanism has everything to do with the old-school frustrations of instant-death gaming and nothing to do with the effortless application of skill that the first game delivered so appealingly.

It's frustrating, not just as a player, but as a piece of game design, because Super Monkey Ball Touch & Roll could have silenced the sceptics.

With better level design, the engaging presentation and the thirst for finding shortcuts, the game's inherent charm could have produced the synergy the optimists were hoping for.

Instead, the result is a game which feels undermined by its platform rather than enhanced. The core strength of the game remains, even if the just one-more-go instinct is expressed through clenched teeth, but these two ideas, although clearly similar, have yet to prove truly compatible.

More Info

DescriptionA great equalizer in video games. Anyone can jump in and enjoy the mazy, monkey goodness and multiplayer minigames.
US censor ratingEveryone
UK censor rating3+
Release date21 February 2006 (US), 17 February 2006 (UK)