Super Monkey Ball Jr. – GBA
Platform: Game Boy Advance
Release Date (NA): November 19th, 2002
Developers: Realism, THQ, Sega
Nerd Rating: 5.5 out of 10
As the Super Monkey Ball franchise pervades the staff of Nerd Bacon, I couldn’t help but take a crack at Super Monkey Ball Jr. for the GBA when I saw it for sale a couple of weeks ago. It’s a little rougher around the edges than more recent installments, and although I think it falls short in some areas, it is a serviceable and moderately enjoyable game. Depending on how puzzle-oriented you are as a gamer you might find yourself spending a couple of hours moving through the increasingly difficult levels, or this could be the kind of thing you find yourself picking up for a few minutes at a time to kill said time. I find myself in the latter camp for the most part, but I’ve found myself reasonably engrossed on occasion.
For anyone unfamiliar with gameplay in Super Monkey Ball, the player plays as a monkey….in a ball…who must navigate through a “course” via rolling, all the while trying to collect bananas and make it to the goal. The main issues are both limited time and falling off of the playing area. Super Monkey Ball Jr. sticks to the formula pretty closely. The main mode of play divides courses into 4 difficulties. Moving through all the twists and turns is a lot of fun at first, as is playing with and figuring out the physics involved. The problem is that the difficulty ramps up far too quickly, even during the easiest tier of levels.
Ultra-simple graphics bring the game down quite a bit. The courses all have the same look to them, and though we’re given the choice between 4 monkeys to play as, they don’t look much different. The courses are all made of green checkerboard and perpetually float in some kind of featureless void, which doesn’t add much to the experience. With only a handful of colors and the same visual elements used again and again, Monkey Ball Jr. gets boring to look at rather quickly. A solid concept holds it together, but you’ve got to really be into the gameplay itself to keep your attention on the bland graphics.
Although the developers obviously weren’t very concerned with the appearance of Super Monkey Ball Jr., they did dedicate their energies to a commendable execution of physics within the game. Momentum is taken into account masterfully, replicating exactly what it would feel like to be inside of plastic ball and rolling oneself around. Inclines, declines, obstacles, and even falls all operate on a very realistic foundation that undoubtedly takes speed, inertia, work, force, and all those other equations from high school physics into account. The D-pad, however, is not the greatest instrument with which to harness these forces. Moving in fluid curves or executing risky, last minute maneuvers is almost impossible due to the D-pad’s rather rigid inclination towards the cardinal directions. Obviously a joystick or circle pad would be preferable, and being forced to use the D-pad really is a hindrance.
The minigames offered up are another interesting exploration of the gameplay in Monkey Ball Jr. Here we have 3: fighting, bowling, and golf. For the most part I found these respites pleasant, though some to more degrees than others. Bowling is totally manic and out of control and impossible to aim and I don’t even know why it’s been included. Golf is a little more fun, and the player “hits” the monkey-in-a-ball across different courses into (guess what) a hole! I liked this game, but I found the different power meters and strange shape of the courses to culminate in a trial and error sort of game. The fighting/boxing match is easily the best minigame: a 4 monkey free for all in an arena with everyone boxing and attempting to knock each other out for points. Graphics in the minigames are as uninspired as those of the main mode, but the gameplay works well enough.
Super Monkey Ball Jr. feels dated nowadays, but the gameplay still holds up to an extent. And while I normally wouldn’t let the graphics weigh so heavily on my opinion, there is something to be said for presentation. In a puzzle-type game, the visuals can really mean the difference between getting bored easily and staying engaged throughout the challenges. Still, where the mechanics of platformer and puzzler meet, Super Monkey Ball Jr. contains plenty of worthy challenges that shouldn’t be dismissed based on the seemingly juvenile premise. Such excellent work went into creating not only the puzzles but also a sensible world to play them in, and I just wish there was a bit more polish on the screen to keep me interested. A more complete package would be preferable, but for $5 I’m not much complaining. Besides, Nerd Bacon is always better with a little more Super Monkey Ball.
Reviewed by The Cubist
Share This Post