Review: Super Monkey Ball 2 (Xbox Live)
Super Monkey Ball has a long legacy with gamers, and this twist on the maze game has been frustrating players since its appearance in arcades in 1999. It's a simple game, all you have to do is roll your monkey (who is in one of those pet exercise balls you see for gerbils) around the level to collect as many bananas as possible and then head to the exit, without falling off the platform.
Version Reviewed: 188.8.131.52
The Super Monkey Ball series has two great strengths. The first is in graphics - all the levels are portrayed in 3D with the camera locked in a 'behind the character' viewpoint. It makes all the levels look glorious, and lends a fluid charm both to the level design and the look of the game. There's no easy way to take a shortcut when displaying a 3D world without it showing - thankfully Super Monkey Ball 2 on Windows Phone (in this review, a Lumia 800) is up to the task and moving through the world is smooth and stutter free.
The other strength is in the control system. Even though some platforms have defaulted back to digital controls, any Super Monkey Ball title is going to look for an analogue control system, and in the world of the modern smartphone, that means accelerometers and tilt controls are going to come to the fore.
If you want to roll your ball to the left, tilt your phone to the left. Forward and back to speed up and slow down, going to the right, or any combination are all dealt with by titling your phone in the required direction.
It's a learned skill, and one of the hardest moments of any Super Monkey Ball game is over the first few levels, trying to work out just how much you need to tilt the phone, figuring out just how far you can twist over two axis to get your ball to go where you want, and playing around with the sensitivity setting to get everything just right.
This is helped by the early levels having protective bumper walls so you don't fall down, and rather direct routes to catch the bananas and reach the exit and ease you into the controls - there's even a pitch display so you can see the equivalent joystick input you would be making at the bottom of the screen. This is the danger with the game, if you don't make the connection with the controls very quickly, then you won't want to finish the demo, and a sale is lost.
But if it clicks with you, then get set for a hair raising platform game which is going to need moments of quiet and careful movement to pick up bananas that are balanced right on the edge of a platform (and of course if you fall, you'll lose a life and be prepared to start again), contrasting with moments when you need a huge amount of speed to make it over a jump and reach for the next platform in the level.
Super Monkey Ball 2 has a number of changes over the first Super Monkey Ball, released almost eighteen months ago on Xbox Live, but the biggest change (for the better) has to be with the graphics - they are smoother, with a touch more details, and it is far easier to see what is going on.
You also have more than the basic game of Super Monkey Ball. A number of mini-games are available in this second iteration, allowing you to not only play the regular game, but also involve Monkey Target, Monkey Golf, and Monkey Bowling. These are nice distractions and certainly add to the value of the game (and it's clear they would struggle to stand alone, although with some effort the ten-pin bowling style of the latter could take it to a good 79p title).
But the core is the level design. It's intricate, and put together with an evil eye, because for most of the levels you can clearly see what you need to do. In part that's down to the design giving you straight ahead levels with few choices of route, but also because of the 360 degree panorama tracking shots as each level opens, so you can see each level as the camera moves to the start position.
This can also lead to frustration because you know what to do, it's just that you can't do it.
Super Monkey Ball 2 is a worthy sequel - it takes everything that was good about the first Super Monkey Ball game, and then improves everything a little bit to make for a better title. It adds to the value in the mini games, and it provides not only a bigger challenge, but a lot more fun than the first version on Xbox Live. It's perhaps not quite to my taste, but a lot of people love it and the demo version is generous enough to give you a good run at finding out if it's the game for you.
Reviewed by Ewan Spence at