Review: Do the Monkey!
Sega seems to have hit on a winning formula with their Super Monkey Ball series. Originally appearing in arcades and then quickly morphing into a GameCube release, the monkeys-in-balls have made subsequent appearances on every major platform this generation including the GBA, the PS2 and the Xbox. A PSP rendition is in the works for the end of the summer and Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz was one of the first games announced for the Wii. So it was with a sad monkey face when I came to the conclusion that the first Monkey Ball game on the DS, Touch & Roll, was not more fun than a barrel of monkeys.
It's easy to see the appeal of the Super Monkey Ball series. It's just Marble Madness remixed and recreated in the modern day with little monkeys in plastic globes instead of a possessed marble (it moved on it's own, it was possessed!). You're given a board. You're given a starting point and an ending point. And then you must maneuver your monkey past hazards and over bumps while skirting the edge of nothingness to reach the end. And in translating it to the DS, Sega has done a good job of turning the 120 boards (some new, some old) into bite-sized portable chunks. The problem is that the smooth control needed for the monkey madness just isn't there.
You are given the choice of using either the D-Pad or the stylus and neither seems up to the task of easily controlling your monkey. The top screen shows the current board and your monkey, while the bottom screen shows a picture of your monkey (and they all control roughly the same) that can be manipulated for movement. The D-Pad is not as precise as you sometimes need it to be and rubbing your monkey with the stylus (or the DS thumb strap) is not as responsive as it should be. So in the end you're left with a wildly flailing monkey and lots of (avoidable) monkey death. When it works, it works. And no attempt of control frustration makes guiding a monkey through a maze any less fun than its console brethren. But it just doesn't work well as often as it needs to. Any patient person will find their monkey patience sorely tried over and over and over again.
It's a shame too, as the game really does look nice. Pseudo-3D and 3D graphics combine to give your monkeys a nice solid look. And the boards, with their mix of ramps and bumps and spikes and spinning whirli-dos is a nice fit on the DS. And the sense of speed your little monkey gets when his little legs start scampering can rival that of any Sonic game. The same cannot be said for the music. Which weighs in with a repetitive little ditty that will muted long before the first world is even completed.
The controls fare no better in the now standard complement of Monkey Party Games either. Especially because all of the Party Games must be played with the stylus. Six single and multi-player games round out this secondary mode: Monkey Mini Golf, Monkey Race, Monkey Fight, Monkey Bowling and newcomers Monkey Wars and Monkey Hockey. A quick rundown of the six sorts them into three categories: Broken, Passable and Playable.
Monkey Race and Monkey Fight are essentially broken as controlling your monkey involves using the stylus on the screen where the action takes place
. So unless you've got a tiny, tiny hand, you'll constantly be covering the screen as you move the stylus and have no clue what is going on.
Monkey Wars and Monkey Bowling are both passable because they work, they're just not very exciting. Monkey Bowling is what it is, but Monkey Wars is a simplified FPS that used the D-Pad for movement and the stylus for shooting. It works for what it is, but turning by rubbing the stylus over the "Turn Panel" at the bottom of the screen turns a would-be fast paced mini-game into just a passable one.
Finally, we come to the two best minigames of the Touch & Roll lot: Mini Golf and Hockey. Monkey Mini Golf is an excellent little Mini Golf simulator that requires players to select the angle of the shot and then use one of those gold power meters that appear in every game to control the speed of the shot. From there it's simple minigame goodness. Monkey Hockey works just as well as players place the stylus over the slammer and play a good old fashioned game of Air Hockey on the DS. It works great and even better is the game's "Clay Mode". In this mode, you're given a glob of clay that can squeezed out of the stylus in any shape or form which instantly hardens into your slammer. Hard shots or unsupported pieces will break off parts of the slammer allowing for some awesome strategy to figure the best clay configuration to win the game. As pieces break off, players can even make a new slammer in the middle of play because the clay tube is constantly refilling. Monkey Hockey is an excellent addition to the mob of minigames.