Super Monkey's on my back

by Steven L. Kent

You’ll have to excuse me if this week’s column is a bit short. Sega has just released “Super Monkey Ball 2” (SMB2) and I am having a hard time tearing myself away from the television.

That’s right, Aiai, Meemee, Baby, and Gongon — those four adorable — sphere-enclosed monkeys, have returned.

For those of you who missed their first appearance, and judging by the sales data, a lot of people did, the original “Super Monkey Ball” was the standout best game when Nintendo released its GameCube game console last November.

Exclusive to GameCube, “Super Monkey Ball” was a collection of games that you played by rolling Aiai and company as they solved mazes, raced, boxed, and hang glided inside protective plastic balls. These were fun and simple activities that could be played by up to four players at a time.

The original game also included locked versions of billiards, bowling, and golf that could only be opened by solving the mazes. These “mini” games were more complex.

The bowling game, for instance, should be remembered as one of the finest video bowling games ever released.

All of the activities in “Super Monkey Ball” were designed with an unerring eye for quality, making the game a breath of fresh air.

SMB2 picks up where the original game left off, providing more mazes and an astonishing list of party games.

SMB2 features the bowling, boxing, racing, hang gliding, golf, and billiards from the original game, plus it has six new party games for players to unlock.

Before discussing the party games, let us have a quick word about the main game — steering a monkey in a ball through mazes, and I use the term “maze” very loosely.

The main game involves maneuvering the monkeys as they travel across platforms floating in air (or sea). Finding your way across these platforms is not the problem; you can usually see the end from the very start.

But some of these platforms have dangerous curves, others have holes. Some flap up and down. One rolls itself up like a sleeping bag as you try to cross it. There are 150 platforms in all, and crossing them takes timing, nerve, and skill.

The puzzles in the main game eventually become dreadfully hard to beat. This is my least favorite part of SMB2; and the worst part is, you need to earn points crossing these mazes in order to open the six new party games.

Now, on to the party games. You get to open a new party game each time you earn 2,500 points in the main game. The best of the party games is “Monkey Dogfight,” a game in which four players steer monkeys flying on gliders as they dogfight in colorful arenas.

This is a game in which you shoot pineapples at opponents like missiles while restoring your monkey’s health by flying through bunches of bananas. It sounds nuts, but it’s fun.

“Monkey Baseball” is also fun. This party game is very much like the old arcade baseball games, the ones in which players swing a small bat and try to knock ball bearings up ramps to score home runs.

The trick to this game is learning how to fool opponents by throwing change-up pitches. You can speed up or slow down every pitch at will, so messing with the batter’s timing is all-important.

Two other party games — “Monkey Shooting” and “Monkey Soccer” — struck me as good but not great. The soccer game is amazingly full-featured for a party game. The shooting game is a bit like a 3D version of the classic arcade game “Galaga,” a game in which targets fly around you and you shoot them.

I did not like either of the last games — “Monkey Tennis” and “Monkey Boat.” Both suffered from control issues. On the other hand, when you count the 10 other party games plus the 150 harder-than-hell mazes, who can complain?

So there you have it. I can already say that “Super Monkey Ball 2” will not be my favorite game of 2002. It already isn’t. Just the same, it is a generous game.

Now, if you will excuse me, I have some monkey dogfighting to do.