The Marble Madness-inspired Super Monkey Ball series is back on the Wii with Step & Roll. This time around the developers have focused their resources on making a Balance Board-friendly title that’s both innovative and entertaining. They wanted to add some spice to their simian franchise with refreshed graphics, alternative gameplay, and even a new character. But, did they manage to realize these ambitious endeavors?
Everything starts on the right track. The presentation is a step-up from the previous title, Banana Blitz, providing more details, richer textures, and fun world environments like Far East, Magma Valley, Excavation Site, Polar Festival, and the aquatic Chimpan Sea. In this regard, there’s nothing to complain about. Super Monkey Ball: Step & Roll is an attractive title that maximizes the potential of the series as far as visuals. The franchise’s beloved characters return: AiAi, MeeMee, GonGon, and Baby. Not only that, but SEGA has added a new ape to the mix; his name is Jam, and he’s a goofball trainer who will teach you all the ins and outs of the game. His quirky moves before starting a mini-game or entering a new stage will put you in a good mood.
Of course, the franchise is known for its loud and shrill monkey sounds as well. These go very well with the game’s flashy and almost seizure-provoking appearance, but they do grate after a while. At least, that’s what most people’s thoughts are when they’re first introduced to this wacky title. Sometimes it annoys me too; however, I’ve been following the series from the beginning, and this has made me look at it in a different way. It just wouldn’t be the same without all the rowdy ruckus.
The music is poppy and eccentric too. It has an unmistakable Japanese arcade flare that will drive you crazy, all the while making the kids jump around in excitement. It’s actually clever and fun, but it does suffer a bit from repetition. Super Monkey Ball is, no doubt, a party-oriented game, and it’s also best suited for the younger ones. The 21 mini-games included in the title will keep them busy for a long time, especially if they end up finding some ultimate favorites. I used to be a fan of Monkey Target, and you can’t imagine how many evenings I spent competing against my friends, fighting for that victory score!
Monkey Target is back, but there are plenty of other mini-games worth mentioning as well, such as Balloon Race, Battle Pinball, Hovercraft Battle and Race, Jump Rope, Luge, Monkey Race, Monkey Snowboard, Seesaw Ball, Skydiving, and Sumo Smash. Some of them are really fun, but then others just don’t cut it, especially when the controls are iffy. It’s all hit or miss, which is a shame, considering kids could spend hours on end just playing the mini-game portion of Step & Roll. Fortunately, using the Wii Remote improves things significantly, and this applies to the game’s Main mode as well.
You probably know about Super Monkey Ball’s mechanics by now. Each stage contains a maze-like scenario full of winding tracks, moving platforms, bumpers, and other handicaps; you control a monkey trapped inside a ball and simply have to reach the goal. Sometimes it’s really easy, but as you advance through the six different worlds, you’ll come across some particularly challenging levels where other elements come into play. For example, there’s one where you enter mirrored gates that change around the entire stage. Getting to the goal is no easy feat! Others rely on simpler physics tricks; if you’re not careful, the increasing downhill speed will be your doom, as you ricochet against a bumper and end up flying in the air.
When you play with the Balance Board, the challenge goes even further. Your body is not as stable as your hand, and the sensitivity of the Board makes you lose control easily. It’s not easy to distribute your body weight in such a way that the ball will go exactly where you want it. The developers realized that and even removed some of the obstacles present when playing with the Wii Remote, but even still, the game can become frustrating really fast.
Although Step & Roll was meant to be played with Nintendo’s Balance Board, things just didn’t turn out too well. It’s not that the controls with the big, white peripheral are inaccurate; the issue is that they’re simply too tiring and require too much precision. Who wants to spend long periods of time standing on the platform, juggling your weight towards the sides, in order to control an ever-rolling ball? It’s a tempting idea that could be fun, but most players will just want to stick to Wii-mote controls and leave the Board for Wii Fit, which at least helps you burn some calories!
Tilting the Wii Remote is an easier way to go in both the Main mode and the mini-games. In the single-player or the co-op, if you hold the controller flat on the palm of your hand and tilt it smoothly towards the sides, your chances of success are big. In fact, the first three worlds of the game are almost too easy – about 10 to 15 minutes each, give or take. Step & Roll is definitely not a long game, so it relies mostly on replay value. And yes, it does have replayability as far as mini-games go, collecting achievements and other unlockables, or trying to beat your own records in the Main mode, but a few things hamper the fun factor.
One of the most annoying issues I experienced with Step & Roll is that when you finish a 10-stage world, it makes you watch the credits. Sure, they made a mini-game out of it; each letter is a ball that drops into a platform and you have to make the orbs fall through the holes in order to gather points. This is fine and all when you’ve finished the game, but why at the end of each world? And why do I have to get through it all before I can record my score?
Another problem is the stage moves too much when you play, which may cause motion sickness. It’s not a joke… Watch the stage move back and forth while you try to concentrate on the ball and you’ll see what happens! Adding Nunchuk support could have helped. We don’t know why it wasn’t an option, but the truth is, at the end of the day, controlling the stage and the ball with an analog stick is a lot more comfortable and satisfying. The Wii offers a unique control alternative based on motion controls, but this innovation sometimes doesn’t compensate, turning fun games into more of a chore.
Super Monkey Ball: Step & Roll is not a bad game. One can see the effort put into it and enjoy the outcome. However, it’s a game tailored for children more than anything, as adults probably won’t have the patience it takes to get through it. It’s also not a bad option as a family game. Parents can play with their kids at the same time and get a sense of accomplishment, and the mini-game competitions can be fierce. Still, one has to be realistic. This is the fifth console-based Super Monkey Ball title, and it’s not the best one. It’s missing some of the fun mini-games included in previous installments, and the Balance Board controls aren’t very appealing after all. Of course, give it a try if Super Monkey Ball is your cup of tea!
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
Fun and vibrant presentation makes this game appealing, especially for the young ones. Good visuals for a Wii game. 3.2 Control
You can choose between the exhausting Balance Board controls or the more traditional Nunchuk / Wii Remote combination. The Wii Remote works well in the single-player mode, but the controls are not quite as polished for the mini-games. 3.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Fun, poppy tunes round up the off-beat monkey theme. There’s good variety in the soundtrack, but it does suffer from repetition after a while. Monkey sounds tend to get annoying. 3.6
Lengthy and varied single-player mode plus plenty of mini-games make Super Monkey Ball: Step & Roll a good enough offering.
3.3 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.