The Windows Phone 7 version of Super Monkey Ball is the latest in a long line of adaptations of the original GameCube classic. Innovative and inspiring at the time of its release, few titles offered under the franchise’s banner have since managed to live-up to the standard set by the very first release. Hopes are high that SEGA will be able to recreate the magic on a modern system, but given the disappointing response to the iPhone releases, you’d be forgiven for not expecting great things from the Windows Phone 7 release.
For those uneducated in the world of Super Monkey Ball, the premise of the game is relatively simple. A monkey is caged within a ball, rolling around a floating surface with the aim of reaching a goal. Collecting bananas along the way will offer additional lives, and collecting all the bananas in a stage will mark it with a golden crown. However, instead of taking direct control of the ball or the monkey within, the player commands the floor beneath, directing the monkey and adding/reducing momentum by tilting the floor in the appropriate direction.
The control system of Super Monkey Ball is tied to the Windows Phone 7 handset’s accelerometer. Tilting the device in the direction which you wish the floor to move is as intuitive as writing a number on the screen for a Dr. Kawashima’s Brain Training mathematics challenge, though the contextual feedback isn’t quite as refined as you would hope, especially once you begin to challenge areas with thin pathways and no bumpers along the edges, or both. With no secondary control method available, many less enduring gamers may become all-too frustrated with the quickly increasing difficulty curve very early on.
While Super Monkey Ball features both Instant Play and Practice modes, it’s the Main Game mode that, unsurprisingly, is the main component of the game. Featuring four playable characters, with no discernable difference between them, the Main Game mode sees you playing through five differently themed worlds consisting of a number of levels each holding a numerous stages. More than one hundred stages are available in total, including a number of bonus rounds.
Instant Play automatically sets you up with a random monkey on any of the levels unlocked, while Practice simply lets you select any previously unlocked stage without having to play through an entire set. As would be expected, Super Monkey Ball also offers global Leaderboards and the full quote of 200 GamerScore to earn.
Visually, Super Monkey Ball excels beyond that of the titles available on the original Nintendo DS family of consoles in terms of draw distance and clarity of its 3D visuals, but still uses 2D sprites for the monkey and his ball. It would be preferable to have the bananas or background detail as 2D objects rather than the central point of information, as the monkey’s movement doesn’t directly relate to the momentum when the animation sequences are significantly limited in such a way, but even after several outings on less powerful systems it appears SEGA is yet to realise this.
Super Monkey Ball is a welcome addition to the series, but not one which breaks any new ground. Its duration is surprisingly lengthy for a mobile title, however with that lack of a second control option, being based entirely around the accelerometer within the Windows Phone 7 handset means that Super Monkey Ball remains an enjoyably frustrating experience as intended, but in the same fashion as the Wii and Nintendo DS releases it could never compare to the exacting tactile feedback of the GameCube’s analog stick.