January 7, 2010 – The Super Monkey Ball series is nearly set for a second sojourn on Wii. Getting ready for a February 2010 release, Step & Roll will innovate upon the well established conventions of the franchise by adding Balance Board support. While we’re quite interested to see how the final product turns out, we’re also a bit apprehensive that SEGA is featuring the alternative controls so prominently. Luckily, the developers are well aware of the peripheral’s limitations, and promise they are taking the necessary steps to balance the gameplay and provide an engaging experience.
Anyone that’s followed the series will instantly recognize the potential and natural integration of such a control scheme into the formula. The campaign mode in Super Monkey Ball has always been the banana-collecting obstacle courses, and using the Balance Board should feel quite natural and more immersive than even the Wii Remote did in its predecessor, Banana Blitz. By shifting your weight forward and back and side to side, you’ll be able to guide and platform your monkey-ball around the winding, obstacle-laden tracks, collecting bananas, advancing through the rainbow-based worlds, and improving upon your top scores.
Though the Balance Board is what will set this edition of SMB apart from Banana Blitz, if you don’t own a Balance Board or simply aren’t into getting up off the coach to play video games, the devs have included Wii Remote and Nunchuk support for a more traditional experience. However, using the Balance Board will likely be perfect for the main game mode, and they probably shouldn’t be neglected if you plan on picking up the game. From what producer Yasuhito Baba has said, the Balance Board has actually been a steep challenge to implement. Hopping on the board and moving through the stages was extremely difficult. Because the SMB titles have always been made with multiple gamer types in mind (from children to core), they had to really tweak the mechanics and design so that you are eased into the game. As such, the normal difficulty curve has been augmented; rather than consistently ramping up the difficulty, players will find a difficulty curve that resembles that of a flight of stairs rather than a smooth rise.
This admission is telling in two ways. First, use of the Balance Board will actually take a lot of skill to manipulate appropriately. As we saw with Tony Hawk Ride, a lot of gamers simply aren’t coordinated enough to implement such a control scheme effectively. Second, Step & Roll should be a very unique entry in the franchise, shaking up gameplay significantly. We are a bit worried that the implementation of the Balance Board will be too ambitious, but we’re also excited by the prospect of literally hopping into a monkey-ball and making it happen.
Outside of the campaign gameplay, Super Monkey Ball has also always included a ton of great, multiplayer-friendly mini-games. Step & Roll will be no exception, boasting 21 brand new mini-games. Though only one Balance Board can be linked to the Wii at a time, up to three other players will be able to join-in cooperatively by implementing the IR camera located in the Wii Remote a la Super Mario Galaxy. While gem collection in Galaxy was little more than a way for parents to actively participate while their children played the game, use of the IR camera in Step & Roll should be at least somewhat more compelling, as participants will be tasked with raising barriers, taking out baddies, etc. There will also be hot-seat or hot-board support, so players will be able to switch out control in heated, competitive multiplayer gaming.
Super Monkey Ball: Step & Roll has been designed from the ground up for the Balance Board in order to accentuate the party feel of the title. The producers envision Step & Roll to be a living room centerpiece when friends and family come over. Certainly the series has always been party-oriented (lord knows I’ve had many epic Monkey Target competitions with buddies on the GameCube), but the gaming core have always been well served by the intricate, outstanding level design in the main campaign and the subtle complexities found while mastering the mini-games. The developers are keenly aware that this next entry must please long-term fans, and they promise that the level design is as impressive as ever.
Super Monkey Ball: Step & Roll is well on its way through development, with a firm date of February 9th set for its North American release. Though we do have a few reservations concerning the implementation of the Balance Board, we’re reassured by comments the developers have made which directly address our concerns. Check back in a little more than a month for our review of the finished product.