The forgotten Super Monkey Ball game that launched the iPhone app store has been preserved with a new emulator

Super Monkey Ball iOS
(Image credit: Sega)

In 2017, Apple's introduction of iOS 11 effectively killed thousands upon thousands of games and apps built for the early generations of iPhones and iPads. Now, a new emulator is aiming to bring them back.

That emulator is called touchHLE, and it launched earlier this month. The 'HLE' stands for 'high-level emulator,' which essentially means that it's more focused on getting old games and apps running well on modern hardware than it is in recreating the idiosyncrasies of the iPhone hardware itself.

Right now, touchHLE is built to run the iOS version of Super Monkey Ball, and it does an incredible job at it. Getting the game running isn't entirely user-friendly (you'll want to follow a YouTube tutorial), but once it's loaded it plays incredibly well. Touch controls are emulated through mouse clicks and the gyro movement you use to actually get around the stages feels great on a gamepad analog stick. By all accounts, the emulator remains stable even through the game's final levels - it's an impressive implementation for something so early in development.

You can see it in action below.

Why Super Monkey Ball? Developer hikari explains in a lengthy blog post that it's because Super Monkey Ball was one of the first games used to demonstrate the potential of the Apple app store, and one of the titles there at the store's launch in 2008. hikari had a lot of nostalgia for that game, and after a chance encounter with a trailer for a modern Monkey Ball title, decided to take advantage of the free time provided by a bout of unemployment to build an emulator that could once again run the iOS Super Monkey Ball.

As it stands, the only way to continue playing old iOS games is to keep a device that supports them around - and if you've contended with an aging iPhone battery in the past, you know those devices are not meant to last. Emulation is the only real solution, and this project is an absolutely incredible first step in making it viable.

"For the moment, I really need to take a break for a while, at least for a few days," hikari says. "I'm definitely going to try to get more games working after that, though! With that said, please be patient and don't expect too much. This is only the beginning of a long and hard journey, and I'm a single person who does have a life beyond this project. Of course, contributions are welcome!"

Yes, someday mobile nostalgia will shake up all those lists of the best retro games.

Dustin Bailey
Staff Writer

Dustin Bailey joined the GamesRadar team as a Staff Writer in May 2022, and is currently based in Missouri. He's been covering games (with occasional dalliances in the worlds of anime and pro wrestling) since 2015, first as a freelancer, then as a news writer at PCGamesN for nearly five years. His love for games was sparked somewhere between Metal Gear Solid 2 and Knights of the Old Republic, and these days you can usually find him splitting his entertainment time between retro gaming, the latest big action-adventure title, or a long haul in American Truck Simulator.