Ever since Donkey Kong took a bit of a shine to Daisy and decided to abscond with her up some construction scaffolding, simians have had a seminal role in video games, and never more so than in one of the Gamecube's best launch titles, Super Monkey Ball. Super Monkey Ball quickly begat Super Monkey Ball 2, but up until now you'd have to have invested in one of Nintendo's purple or black mini-boxes to get a fix of controlling a monkey in a plastic sphere. Super Monkey Ball DX collects the best levels from Super Monkey Ball 1 and 2, throws in a few other challenges along the way, and offers it all up on a plate (or should that be in a sphere?) to Playstation 2 and Xbox owners.
If you're not familiar with the series, Super Monkey Ball gives you control of a monkey, in a ball. Presumably the fact that they're able to breathe in there at all, not to mention independently move around and eat bananas, is what makes them Super. In single player, each level of Super Monkey Ball charges you with the task of rolling your monkey from a predetermined start point to a goal as quickly as possible. Bananas can be picked up along the way by rolling over them, and in classic gaming fashion, 100 bananas will afford you an extra life, as well as a whole lot of points. The hook with Super Monkey Ball is that you don't in fact control the movement of your monkey at all. Instead, what you have control over is the tilt of the landscape, up and down, left and right. So to roll your spherical simian to the left, you tap to the left on the analog stick, with differing degrees of tilt giving you more or less momentum. Invariably, you'll hit a level that'll see you tumbling to a screaming simian demise over and over again, and it's worth noting that while the game starts off relatively easily, it quickly becomes a test both of skill and gamer patience.
That's the basic premise in a nutshell, but what makes Monkey Ball unique is that the level designers took a rather different approach to level design than most developers. It'd be unfair to state for the record that Super Monkey Ball levels are the product of an unholy marriage between the paintings of MC Escher and a whole lot of psychotropic substances - but it's also the most apt description that comes to mind. Super Monkey Ball's levels start quite simple, but quickly contort into unworldly shapes, slopes, bump ramps and some exceptionally stiff challenges. All of the levels feature bright psychedelic designs on them - this game is practically the poster child for having an epileptic fit, in fact. It's a heady mix of on-the-spot reflexes and some fairly nimble mental agility combined that'll see you through all of the levels in Super Monkey Ball DX, which includes 300 stages. 114 of these are culled from the original Super Monkey Ball, 140 from Super Monkey Ball 2, and 46 of the levels are all-new affairs.
Super Monkey Ball DX picks up the story mode from Super Monkey Ball 2, which involves your four simian heroes (AiAi, MeeMee, Baby, and GonGon) recovering all the bananas stolen by the evil Dr Bad-Boon. It's the kind of plot that sounds like it was ripped straight from an 8-bit game cartridge to be honest, and not a very good one at that. Thankfully, it doesn't matter a whit what the plot does or doesn't mean, as it's simple enough to bypass straight into the monkey rolling madness.
As well as the single player mode, Monkey Balls 1 and 2 were great multi-player games. Super Monkey Ball DX offers 12 of the multiplayer games culled from both titles, with support for up to four players. In a change of pace from the original, all 12 games are available to you the moment you power up your console. The original games made the multiplayer mini-games unlockables based on earning points in the single player game, which gave you something of an impetus to play single player; here they're just handed to you on a platter. The 12 games vary quite a bit - Monkey Soccer and Monkey Fight are particularly good fun.
Super Monkey Ball DX was never a game that really pushed the boundaries of graphical prowess - although arguably it did sometimes push the boundaries of good taste in colour design. As such, it's not a game that looks particularly dated, although it is worth noting that on the Playstation 2 version which was tested with, there was some slowdown and choppiness in the multiplayer games and more complex ingame puzzle boards.
Score: Sigh. Here we go again. Look, it's got monkeys in it. Lots of them. Bananas, too (although for once the product placement is GONE, not added). It's got monkeys, and they're in spheres. If you can't appreciate the brilliance of that on its own merit, alongside the fact that these two games cost less than the combined price that Gamecube owners have already been slugged with, then you don't DESERVE A SCORE. You'd only try and work out whether it's better than Halo 2 (it is), or whether or not to just keep playing World Of Warcraft instead anyway. Bloody sheep, the lot of you.
(What's that? You say you won't pay me unless I come up with some otherwise meaningless numerical indicator at the end of my writing rampages? Oh, well, that changes everything, then. 85.)
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