Cover taken from thecoverproject.net
It has been far too long now since the last time I did a 30 Minute Review article, so I think it’s about time we fix that. Considering we just finished Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, and in doing so welcomed the Gameboy Advance library to the site, I thought we should start up a tab for the system over here in the 30 Minute Review section as well. So I scrolled through my GBA library and picked out a game I thought would be fun to look at. I ended up settling on Super Monkey Ball Jr.
Personally, I’ve never actually played a game in the Super Monkey Ball series, but I am at least somewhat aware of what the games are like. It’s similar to older games like Marble Madness where you guide a ball through a maze towards the goal. The difference here being that instead of a generic ball, it is actually a monkey running around in a giant hamster ball. While the premise of the game is simple, the series itself has had a rather large number of releases over the years. I know I won’t be doing myself any favors picking the Gameboy Advance version as my entry into the series, but I can still hope that the gameplay holds up just as well as the console and arcade counterparts. So without further delay, let’s jump in a see what the game has to offer.
When you first start up the game, there is the option to play the main game or the minigames. Unfortunately, minigames need to be purchased with points from playing the main game, and none are available yet. So we head into the main game, and start out with the beginner stages until we can get the hang of things.
Before the levels actually start, we are also allowed to pick which monkey will be inside the ball. To my knowledge, this is just a cosmetic change, and doesn’t affect performance, so we’re just going to stick with series mascot Aiai. With all our selections made, we get to see our first level, and it’s a very basic, flat level for us to start with.
The basic concept of the game is pretty easy to understand. We need to guide the Monkey Ball from the Start to the Goal. Along the way there are bananas that can be collected, but that is optional. I believe if you collect 50 bananas you will get an extra life, but you don’t need to go out of your way for them. One thing that might be hard to see with these still shot though is HOW you actually control the Monkey Ball. You’re not controlling the monkey to make him run, you’re actually tilting the whole world and allowing the ball to roll naturally downhill, which I think is a very clever design choice.
Death Count: 02
Floor 2 gradually increases the difficulty by putting a large hole right in the middle of the field. It’s not a very big change, but now the threat of falling off the platform is starting to increase. If you go slowly, it’s not much of an obstacle. However, the Monkey Ball carries quite a bit of momentum, so you might find yourself flying off the edge if you try to go too fast.
Things just keep getting harder from there with Floor 3 being practically a Figure-8. This was actually the level where I learned that you don’t need to collect all the bananas. I didn’t realize they were optional. So if you don’t have to collect all the bananas, then it’s really only a single turn before you make it to the goal. Nothing too hard.
Death Count: 03
Floor 4 is where things really start to get out of hand. Now the platforms are moving. In this stage the whole center section is twisting back and forth making it incredibly easy to fall off the side.
This actually got us our first Game Over. However, we are allowed 5 Continues before it’s Game Over for real. We also get to start off on the same stage we were already on, so there isn’t even any loss of progress.
Death Count: 05
We try it again, going a bit slower this time and make it all the way to the far end of the moving section. Unfortunately, that little nudge we got when transitioning from the moving section to the stationary goal section caused us to zip right past the goal, and off the edge again. Twice actually.
Luckily, Floor 5 is a Bonus Stage. There are quite a few bananas scattered around on the large flat section of the stage, which are all easy enough to collect. However, the real prize is the bunch of bananas off on their own. These are a little harder to get, because they’re on a small hill, but this bunch is worth 10 bananas on its own, so it’s well worth the risk.
Death Count: 07
The Bonus Floor was out first taste of any sort of uneven ground, and Floor 6 takes that to the extreme. The whole stage is a giant ramp down to the bottom. The turns aren’t difficult, but maintaining your speed down the ramp and not flying off the other end is the trouble.
Going downhill is one thing, but going uphill is another thing entirely, and that is what we see here on Floor 7. Because of how steeply you need to tilt the world in order to make the Monkey Ball climb the hill, you end up practically free falling off the stage once you get to the top. Thankfully there are bumpers on the first two hills to prevent this.
Death Count: 17
Unfortunately, this is not the case at the third hill, which is also the steepest of the three hills. It was actually so steep that we couldn’t even make it to the top. This was also the first instance where I noticed how unhelpful the camera can be. Any time I didn’t make it up the hill and rolled back to the bottom, I was unable to turn the camera in a way that was helpful, and ended up falling off the edge in my attempt to reposition myself. After nearly all my lives and continues, I did finally make it to the goal.
Death Count: 18
Unfortunately, the next stage was a collection of small tiles that would expand out to the edges and then shrink back towards the center to make a single platform. Needless to say, I fell off the edge very quickly, and that was the end of this run.
Sent back to the main screen, we decided to check out the minigames this time. Unfortunately, we are still a ways off before we will be able to afford any of them. These include Monkey Fight, Monkey Bowling, and Monkey Golf. We currently have 774 points to spend from that first attempt. However each of the minigames costs 2500 to unlock, so it’s going to take a few more attempts.
Death Count: 23
I won’t bore you with the details, but we manage to get back to Floor 8 having died only 4 additional times. Now that we’re back, we chose to head towards one of the corners in an attempt to get one of the large banana bunches. We get them, which was great, but we end up falling off the edge while trying to head towards the goal.
Rather than keep attempting to get the bananas, we decide to just head straight through the center to the goal. When we do this and take our time, we end up reaching the goal without much trouble.
Death Count: 24
This brings us to Floor 9 which is rather interesting. The layout is very simplistic. However, you might notice there is a gap in the path to the goal. It’s not just a bad camera angle, there really is no solid path from Start to Goal. For this stage we need to actually LAUNCH ourselves down the ramp and across the gap. This turns out about as well as you would expect. Too slow, and we don’t make it all the way over. Too fast and we fly off the other side.
Thankfully we get the hang of it pretty quickly. On our second attempt we stop JUST short of the edge and manage to turn ourselves into the goal for an easy win.
For the final floor of the beginner course, we have a rather large map with elements of all the previous floors. There are narrow ledges, moving platforms, ramps, jumps, everything we could ever want to force our little Monkey Ball off the path.
Surprisingly, this level still manages to give us a new obstacle. As we make it to the end of the course, we have a bit of a dilemma. We went so slow for the first part of the course that we’re not sure we can make it all the way around that final loop in time. This is actually the first time that the clock became an issue for us. So we take a bit of a daring move and simply jump the gap to skip the last section of the course entirely.
With that one daring jump, we manage to beat the beginners course and see the games credits. And I must say, they did a good job with the credits. Instead of being the simple scrolling list of names like every other game, it is actually another bonus level that you get to control. I’m not sure what kind of bonus these bananas give you, but try to collect as many as you can anyways while the credits roll.
Even though we beat the game, we still don’t have enough play points to unlock the minigames, so let’s give a quick look at the Advanced Course to earn those last few points. The first Floor of which looks very familiar. It’s the same basic level as the beginner course, but with a twist. That yellow line down the center is actually a speed bump that we have to get over.
Of course, that’s not much of a challenge, and we make it to the goal without any trouble.
Death Count: 26
Floor 2 however is completely new, and it’s a bit scary to look at. The whole level doesn’t even fit in frame during the preview. So we start the floor, and first obstacle is a couple of small hills. We get over them easily, but then the series of walls just past them gives us a little trouble. Mostly because I was trying to go through them too quickly. Once I slowed down, they were another easy obstacle.
Death Count: 28
Just past those walls we come to the next challenge, a ringed path with a bunch of pinball bumpers spinning around it. Obviously, touching any of these will launch our Monkey Ball clear off the map, so we’re going to have to keep pace with them and stay out of their way. Unfortunately, we fail to do that.
Luckily, the last obstacle on this floor is a simple little hole in the path. We easily navigate around this and manage to make our way to the goal.
When we see Floor 3, we’re actually a bit relieved. There are a couple of large moving platforms we need to cross, but overall it doesn’t look too hard. We cut it close transferring from one platform to the next, but we actually manage to beat this level without even falling off the side.
Floor 4 also ends up not being very difficult. In fact, it looks quite familiar. I think it might be a little bit narrower than the beginner course Floor 4, but other than that, it’s the same challenge. Once again, we clear this stage without any trouble.
Death Count: 29
Then we see Floor 5 and I am terrified. The whole section with the goal on it is flapping up and down like a bird’s wing. It’s actually flapping rather quickly too. We try to time it so we basically drop into the goal when it’s down, but we just end up flying off the far end of the platform.
Rather than try to get the goal again, I thought we’d check out what the heck this other platform is we can see in the preview. If we turn directly backwards from the start and run right off the edge, we actually land on a small platform below with a second goal. However, this isn’t a normal goal, this goal actually warps us straight to Floor 8, skipping over Floors 6 & 7 altogether.
Death Count: 30
Now that we’re on Floor 8, we see that it is very similar to the beginner course Floor 8. However, there seem to be fewer tiles, meaning we have to take a long way around this time. Not that it really matters, we end up falling off the edge almost instantly.
We still have a few continues to use, but I think we’ve made enough progress at this point to be able to afford one of the mini games. Before we even make it back to the main menu, that suspicion is proven true as we are presented with a list of options to unlock. All of them look like they’d be rather fun, but I’ve always liked bowling games, so I chose to pick that one.
The gameplay is exactly what I expected. There is a line that sweeps back and forth across the lane to signify your aim, followed by a sliding power meter for your strength. These are very common mechanics for many bowling games.
Unfortunately, I regret spending my points on this Minigame. It has all the makings of a fun game, but the speed of the meters are simply too fast to be fun. You can put a spin on the Monkey Ball to correct any bad aim, but that also seems to have a pretty steep learning curve as well. In the end I finish the game with a pathetic 59 pins.
Price – $12.47
It’s not exactly bargain bin price, but it does still fall on the cheap side of most GBA games. It seems like it will be a rather short game in general, but I think that price is worth it.
Play Again? – Yes
The gameplay itself is quite simple, but the level designs quickly become more challenging. And while that does mean it quickly becomes more frustrating, it never feels unfair. Because of that, you want to try it again and again to prove to yourself that you can beat the level. Then there are the minigames still to unlock and honestly I would be happy to play this again.
Total Deaths – 30 Deaths
This is definitely a game where death comes quickly and often. However, it always feels like player error rather than the game being unfair. Instead, it becomes part of the learning curve and every death just makes you want to try again, leaving you always in the mind set of “the next attempt will be the one”. So in that regard, I’m not even concerned with how many times I died. For this game, it’s just part of the fun.
Fun Rating – 8 / 10
Overall this was an enjoyable game to play. The simple concept is easy to pick up but hard to master, and the 3D graphics are surprisingly good for the system. Yes we died a lot while playing, but this is one time where it doesn’t really matter much. It’s part of the learning curve of the levels and ultimately part of the fun of the game. Then factor in the multiple minigames that can be unlocked and there is actually a lot more to the game than meets the eye. In the end, it’s a great game, well priced, and I would easily recommend it be added to your collection.
I do want to end this article on a bit of a side note though. When I was rewatching my playthrough to gather the screenshots and write this article, a very curious thing happened. Whenever I paused and frame stepped backwards to get my ideal screenshot, the replay broke. The tiny variations from going back a few frames actually screwed up the physics engine and made the Monkey Ball roll in a slightly different path from where it originally went. This of course caused him to fall off the world at a different time than in the original run, which then makes all the following recorded inputs meaningless. This is the first game I have every played where such a thing has happened during the replay, and I find that very fascinating that the physics engine is so sensitive that even the frame by frame inputs of my recording couldn’t perfectly replicate the original run if I interrupted it in the middle. Of course, that wouldn’t affect anyone under normal play, but I think it shows how powerful of an engine the game is running on that even the tiniest little interruption can send you down a different path.
I beat the game but still got a worse score…
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