The promise of glasses-free 3D gaming will soon be realized in North America with the release of the Nintendo 3DS, and the hope among gamers is that the handheld’s launch titles will showcase the new tech in a fun and engaging way. It is no surprise then to see Super Monkey Ball 3D featured among them. Not only is it a fan-favorite Sega series, filled with colorful characters and bizarre fantasy worlds, but the 3DS edition in particular also delivers a mash-up of gameplay mechanics meant to fill a range of wants for players.
We got to monkey around with the full game at a recent Sega preview event in New York City, and there’s quite a bit there. The central mode is, of course, your basic Super Monkey Ball adventure. You guide a cute little monkey encased in an over-sized hamster ball through a variety of themed 3D environments – 70-80 in all – collecting bananas for points, as you try to make your way to the finish line as quickly as possible. It’s a lot like the old marble game Labyrinth in that you don’t directly control the Monkey Ball so much as you tilt the environment to move your chimp avatar around.
The 3DS puzzle adventure offers accelerometer-based motion controls – simply tilt the device to shift the game world – or analog controls, though the latter option definitely offers a better range for fine-tune adjustments. The accelerometer controls – and this is true for the iOS version of the game as well – tend to be just too imprecise, especially when most people’s brands of on-the-go gaming is likely to include train or bus travel. More importantly, using tilt controls for the game means you can’t make use of the device’s 3D features, since adjusting your viewing angle even a little bit ruins the 3D effect.
Complementing the adventure are two additional modes: a kart racer called Monkey Race and a competitive fighting game that bears no small resemblance to Super Smash Bros. Monkey Race is your average kart racer, with three circuits of three tracks apiece, collective power-ups/weapons, and multiple karts and racers to choose from, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. There are Grand Prix, Quick Race, and Time Trial modes, and the other typical accouterments for the genre like drift slides and turbo boosts.
There are eight characters unlocked to begin with, with additional ones obtained, along with extra karts, by making progress in the single-player mode. The game also ties into Nintendo’s “Activity Points” system, in which gamers are awarded with points simply for carrying their 3DS around. The built-in pedometer gives everyone a single Activity Point for every 100 steps taken. Players have the option of spending 20 of these points for a one-time character unlock in Super Monkey Ball 3D.
In Monkey Fight, up to four players duke it out in a two-dimensional space for control of the level’s bananas. It’s pretty simple: a bunch of bananas appear at the start of each match, and then you pick up as many as you can, and beat up anyone else who has some, causing them to drop some of their stash. There are also power moves that can be pulled off by being the first one to break a randomly appearing golden barrel, as well as power-ups. In both the Race and Fight modes, there are a total of 16 characters that can be used.
Super Monkey Ball 3D only supports local wireless play for up to four players, and no online play at all. It also offers game-sharing, though players are limited to using one map per mode and only the initially unlocked characters. There still seems to be a lot for the Monkey Ball fan to enjoy however, especially as a showcase for the full range of the new Nintendo handheld’s features.