App Review: Super Monkey Ball!

A super...   a monkey...  a ball.  A Super...  a Monkey...  a Ball.  These are not three different games!

Does the above phrasing sound familiar?  Steve Jobs used this same kind of phrasing when first introducing the iPhone waaaaaaaay back in January 2007.  Much has happened since then!  We finally have the iPhone 3G and, even more importantly (in my opinion), we have iPhone 2.0 and the Apps Store!  

You may have heard of a little game called Super Monkey Ball from SEGA?  It's only just the top app at the iTunes App Store.  It's only $9.99.  We got a taste of it several months ago at the last WWDC during the keynote and there has been salivation, hand-wringing and garment-rending ever since.  Finally, with the release of iPhone 2.0 and the App Store last week, the venerable Super Monkey Ball is available for download from the iTunes App Store via your desktop or right to your iPhone.

Does it measure up to the hype?  The answer is --- (suspense killing ya?)  Full review is a click away!

In a word --- YES.  Super Monkey Ball delivers with respect to showcasing the capabilities of the iPhone; accelerometer tilt-control, large luscious touchscreen, and processing power to handle the impressive 3-D graphics, physics of gameplay, and sound.

Overview

Super Monkey Ball is fairly straight-forward.  I have NO experience whatsoever with the previous versions of this game.  In fact, until El Jobso showcased it a few months ago, I'd never heard of it.  Fortunately, it's easy to catch on to the gist of the game. Simply put, you control a monkey inside a transparent sphere and roll it/him/her around the game area, which is suspended high above empty space.  If you fall off the playing area, or "Fall Out", you lose a life.  Once all lives are expended, the game is over.  The objective is to gather up all the bananas you can within the time limit and then pass through the "goal" -- a circular portal reminiscent of a "stargate" from the same-titled movie.

Sounds easy enough, right?

The Looks

As you can judge by the screenshots I took on my iPhone (thanks again to the 2.0 update!), the world of Super Monkey Ball is lavish with color and creativity.  It is truly a visually stunning environment and offers some of the best graphics you'll find on a portable gaming device, much less a mobile phone.

There are a total of 5 worlds and 110 stages to play through, including bonus stages for the opportunity to grab a ton of bananas which, consequently, give you bonus lives.  Each world has two sets of 10 stages, an Easy set and a Hard set.  Once you complete a set of 10 stages (a bonus stage sandwiched right in the middle of each set of 10), you will advance to the next set of 10 stages.  So, in each world, there is an "Easy" set of 10 stages and a "Hard" set of 10 stages, plus two bonus stages solely for accumulating extra bananas and extra lives.

If it weren't hard enough to navigate that darned little monkey in the ball (more on that later), you have the pressure of a ticking clock to reach the goal at the end of the stage.  If time expires, you have to start the stage all over again.  If you "fall out", you also have to start the stage again.

During gameplay, you get to enjoy rousing music and the squeaks and squeals of your monkey as it/he/she reacts to your control.  Each stage is creatively designed and presents unique challenges along the way.

The Feel

When you start Super Monkey Ball, you get to select the game Mode (Main Game, Instant Play, Practice, Ranking, and Options).  Instant Play drops you right into the action with a randomly-selected level that you've already completed.  Selecting the Main Game will start you from the beginning, where first you select from four different character monkeys (each with their own personalities/sounds), then on to World Select where you can choose from the five different worlds.  If you are just beginning, the only world you can select is the first one, Monkey Island, and not until you complete the stages in a particular world do you unlock the next one.

Moving a monkey around in a ball seems simple enough, but the first few minutes (maybe hours for some -- right, Dieter?) will be absolute pandemonium (that monkey ball seems more slippery than a politician dipped in baby oil on ice skates). It takes a bit of practice to get the hang of the physics and control-by-tilt, compliments of the iPhone's accelerometer.  This method of controlling the game proves to be quite innovative and fun, actually.  If you persevere, you will find that you develop a "touch" for controlling your monkey ball.  Tilting the iPhone up toward you will slow down the rolling, left and right is self-explanatory, and tilting the screen forward increases the forward speed.  Some levels allow for some excessive monkey ball speeding, and some require an extraordinary amount of finesse and careful tilting.

Tilting the iPhone can be frustrating for some -- I've heard criticisms that so much tilting hinders the ability to see what you are doing, but I haven't really noticed this to be the case for me.  The greatest criticisms I have of the game are two-fold and really have nothing to do with the look or feel of the game.  First, there is no way to manually save a game.  In order to save your progress, you have to complete a set of 10 stages, period.  Second (and this is related to the first concern), Super Monkey Ball does not handle phone or text interruptions well.  If you get a phone call or text, the game will pause and allow you the choice of taking the call or text or ignoring it.  If you ignore, then you can resume your game where you left off.  If you take the call or text, your game is doomed and you must start over with the set of 10 stages you last began.  It's too bad that an auto-save feature isn't included so that you can pick up precisely where you left off.

Conclusion

Despite the inability to manually save your progress or continue where you left off after answering a call or text, Super Monkey Ball is a must-have app and is well worth the $9.99 price tag.  Playability is fantastic and the graphics are top-notch. The game's number one spot at the App Store is well-deserved and it's a game that can be enjoyed by all ages.  It's a pleasure for me to give it a 5 across the board (out of 5, of course!).  Download it via the App Store on your iPhone or head over to the iTunes App Store today and get it immediately!

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There are 17 comments. Add yours.

Bobowski says:

I can't get past level 9 for the life of me (or my monkey). :(

HexGhost says:

Sorry TiPB, but I have to disagree. This game looks great, sounds great, and I was really happy to buy it, but the controls ARE A NIGHTMARE. Seriously, it's unplayable once you get to the harder levels without the bumpers. I hope they release an update that makes the controls a little less sensitive.

Rene Ritchie says:

I. Want. Sonic. Touch. Now. Plz.

iphonemilk says:

@Hexghost
I think alot of people expect this to be an easy game to play. The controls are just fine. They are just really sensative. and it's THAT way on purpose.
Most people easily forget this is a MOMENTUM based ball you are moving around.
It's not going to be 100% responsive for a reason. It's a ball.. and you need to move it with momentum.
That's why it's really sensitive.
I've seen people pick this up and try it out and they're hands are moving around all over the place.
Just ease up.. calm down, and take it slow. It's actually pretty easy to play then.

Brian Hart says:

So far, I've made it to the 3rd world. @HexGhost: I DO feel your pain! :) In my experience, it just takes some time to get the "touch" (no pun intended) for balancing that monkey. I've learned to really slow it down to a crawl to maneuver in the tricky spots ;)

iphonemilk says:

@Brian
"for balancing that monkey"
LOL!!!!
sorry man... it's friday.. i just had to.... LOL!!!

mss0138 says:

I purchased the game last night, downloaded it, synced it via iTunes with my iPhone.
Tried to start the game, nice splash screen and then crash to Home Screen... :(
Anyone else encounter this?

thekevinmonster says:

So far, I only have Trism and SMB on my iPhone. I'd much rather have bought only Trism. SMB is fun with your friends on a GameCube (or Wii, but I'm not cool enough to have a wii yet) but I found it to be the kind of game that I'll just never sit down and play on my iPhone.
On the other hand, I could play Trism for hours. If Q! ever makes Lumines for the iPhone, I'm sunk.

iphonemilk says:

you know what i would love to see? Some sort of ONLINE type of Civ/ or Travian like RPG map/style conquest game. Where you make your moves etc etc. but on a mass player scale. Anyone ever play Travian before? Imagine that being an App... =)

Rene Ritchie says:

@mss0138: Yup, it crashed every time for me until I deleted it from the iPhone, did an iPhone restart, and then re-installed from iTunes. Crashed a couple times since then, but iPhone restarts fix it.
Hopefully 2.0.1 and Monkey Ball 1.1 will fix this...

3G iPhone says:

Doesn't crash for me.
Also this is a good but frustrating game.

RobAGogo says:

Sometimes you need to spank your monkey if it's behaving badly. Bad monkey. No Banana for you.

Happyfeet says:

I just purchased the game today on my new iPhone.This is so amazing.I was a bit concerned finding that the monkey ( each one of them ) is has slipery feet but it seems that's the challenge to strike balance on the iPhone's sensitive accelerometer.This blog helps....it seems I have company.
www.supermonkeygameoniphone.blogspot.com

somner says:

Hey guys! I bought Super Monkey via the iPhone 3G and once I sync it, the app is still on my phone and when I click it the main screen pops up and then it automatically shuts down.
I'm not sure who to contact regarding this issue. Does anyone know?

Rene Ritchie says:

@Somner:
Restart/reset/reboot your iPhone. (Hold down the sleep button until you get the red slider, confirm shutdown, wait a few seconds, then hold down the button again to reboot).
I have to do this every once and a while to get Monkey Ball to stop crashing :(

Mark says:

I can't get passed Easy World 1, level 9. Is it just me? It seems like the controls are very different on list level for some reason. The monkey seems to move quite radically and irradically. Can anyone offer any help? :( very frustrated!!!!

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