Monkeys rate second look

by Steven L. Kent

Not many people jumped at “Super Monkey Ball” when it hit the market.

Made by Sega for the Nintendo GameCube, “Super Monkey Ball” was one of the only three games available on the market when Nintendo launched the new console in September.

As one of only three games for a new console, you might expect “Super Monkey Ball” to be an instant million seller. That would likely happen in the United States, where consumers will buy just about any game they can find for new game consoles.

In Japan, however, consumers generally do not purchase hardware until they see games they want.

There were no Mario games at the launch of GameCube, and Japanese consumers responded by not opening their pocketbooks.

Now that Nintendo has released “Pikmin” and “Super Smash Bros.,” GameCube sales have picked up.

That being the case, it’s time that shoppers in Japan took another look at “Super Monkey Ball.”

A console translation of a little-known arcade game, “Super Monkey Ball” looks like a game of little consequence at first glance, but you might want to have another look.

If you are looking for a game of skill, the main game in “Super Monkey Ball” requires advanced eye-hand coordination.

If you like mini games that come as bonuses, “Super Monkey Ball” has the best mini games of 2001. It is also the best party game of all time.

The premise is simple, stupid, and very straightforward. You stick four adorable monkeys in glass balls and use them for different games.

The main game involves steering the monkeys through mazes.

The mazes are platforms floating in space. Some of these platforms are laden with holes, some have narrow walkways, some have curved surfaces, some have all of the above.

Your job is to steer the monkeys through all of this without falling off.

It’s hard.

You don’t control the monkeys in these mazes, you control the ground beneath them.

This means that you cannot make sharp turns. About the best you can hope to do is slow your monkey by changing the slope of the ground.

If this sounds easy, just try and roll your monkey over a zigzagging course with a concave surface. Every turn becomes a test of nerve.

While the main game is an impressive test of skill, it was my least favorite part of “Super Monkey Ball.”

Along with the main game, “Super Monkey Ball” includes three “party games.”

The first of these party games is “Monkey Racing,” which features several winding racetracks. Up to four players can race their monkeys around these courses.

As you race, power-ups appear. Picking these up will allow players to shoot weapons at their opponents.

It also includes “Monkey Fighting,” a sumo-type contest in which players try to knock each other’s monkeys out of the ring using boxing gloves on pincer arms that are added to the outside of the monkey balls. This game is very fast, very simple, and encourages players to gang up on each other.

My favorite is “Monkey Target,” a Zen-like game in which players roll their monkeys down a ski jump platform, then open their balls to glide toward distant targets. To get a good score in this game, you must fight against the wind to land on secluded zones.

If any interactive activity of 2001 deserves the epitaph of “most addicting,” it’s “Monkey Target.”

But wait, folks, we’re not done. “Super Monkey Ball” may not slice, dice, or make julienne fries, but it does have three locked mini games — “Monkey Billiards,” “Monkey Bowling,” and “Monkey Golf.”

To access these games, you need to score thousands of points playing the main game. I tired of the main game fairly early, but kept playing to unlock all three mini games. It was worth it.

“Monkey Billiards” is a brilliant game of nine-ball. “Monkey Bowling” is one of the most robust bowling simulations I have ever played.

“Monkey Golf” is an absolutely infuriating game of miniature golf with holes that test your aim and your logic.

If you think the name “Super Monkey Ball” suggests that this game is for kids, you are absolutely correct.

This is a Disney-like game that is completely devoid of the blood and guts charm of so many adult games.

But made for kids does not mean bad for adults.

“Super Monkey Ball” is a simian game of the highest quality. Sega took a silly concept and turned it into a brilliant pastime.