Super Monkey Ball Step & Roll Review

By Jason D'Aprile - Posted Feb 17, 2010

Super Monkey Ball is back and this time, they're boarding--Wii balance board-ing, that is. If you're into shaking and shimmying your hips with primates, this game tries it's best to oblige, but only partially succeeds.

The Pros
  • Playing with monkeys in balls is still fun
  • Intriguing use of the Wii balance board
  • Tons of mazes
The Cons
  • Balance board is overly sensitive and annoying to use
  • Most of the mini-games are really rather lame
  • Few improvements from the last game

Those crazy monkeys in balls are back and this time, they’re apparently trying to kill us all. Super Monkey Ball Step & Roll’s entire existence appears to only an excuse to marry the Wii balance board with the tried and true gameplay of the series. While this idea certainly seems brilliant in theory, much like Tony Hawk: Ride, its execution is questionable.

Super Monkey Ball Step & Roll

It’s Got Monkeys!

If nothing else, Step & Roll functions much better than the abysmal Ride. Take that for what it’s worth though, as playing Monkey Ball with your whole body is an accident waiting to happen. Shifting your hips back and forth seems like a simple and fun prospect -- and for some (belly dancers, perhaps) it is -- but the balance board, like the Wii controls in general (seen in 2006’s Wii launch title Banana Blitz), aren’t really made for fine detail.
 
Ditching any semblance of the usual crazy stories and boss battles of previous games, Step & Roll presents a much more slimmed-down, arcade experience. The core of the main game is still the same: It’s a 3D-styled version of labyrinth, in which you must move your simian-filled sphere across perils and hazards to reach the end goal. The trademark surreal floating mazes to maneuver and bonus bananas to collect are all here, so veterans of monkey-driven orbs will be right at home. The focus is completely on getting the best time and highest score, and the whole package has a definite competitive multiplayer bent.

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Mini-Monkey Shenanigans…with Balls

Aside from the single-player labyrinth, the Super Monkey Ball series is well-known for its numerous minigames, and Monkey Bowling was among the most popular ten-pin games around pre-Wii Sports. The multiplayer element especially rings true of the twenty-plus minigames, but it seems that almost all the best extracurricular activities have already been done elsewhere. While there are a variety of targeting, racing, and battling games here (and some are fun like the thruster-based lunar landing game), few of them contain the magic of Monkey Pool, Golf, and hanggliding from prior games.

Since Step & Roll’s games are mostly designed around the balance board, they’re generally too simple in design and frustrating in execution. The sumo battle for instance, has two players thrusting their hips as quickly and forcefully as possible to butt-bounce the other monkey off a shared pedestal. It might be funny the first couple of times, but that’s about it.

Super Monkey Ball Step & Roll

Bored of the Board

The main attraction of Step & Roll is its numerous mazes and it’s here that the balance board controls really make or break the game. First off, it’s entirely possible some players will master the cumbersome, over-sensitive mechanics of swaying your body around to tilt the maze to and fro. Even casual gamers will feel great satisfaction after completing a maze while dealing with the frustration of constantly being turned in the wrong direction; however, there’s little doubt that many players will choose to switch back to the Wii remote after the initial gimmick of the board wears off.

The remote isn’t as precise as using a GameCube controller, but it still makes the game playable and fun. That’s the important thing to remember about Super Monkey Ball -- it really is a ton of zany fun at its core. The premise makes no sense whatsoever, but it’s so bright, colorful, and cute that the set up doesn't matter. The game starts off simply enough to draw you in, but always ramps up the difficulty to insane by the end of its 70 levels.
 
Super Monkey Ball Step & Roll doesn’t really look much different than Banana Blitz, or even the decade-old GameCube versions. The layout is simplistic, focusing more on cartoonish characters and maintaining a high framerate, but some of the levels and world backdrops are very inspired. The audio is the usual mix of chirpy monkey noises and an upbeat soundtrack.

Super Monkey Ball Step & Roll
 
Balls Away

Although in launching Super Monkey Ball Step & Roll, Sega has placed a great deal of focus on the Wii balance board, it is entirely optional. The game is mostly playable with the board, and with plenty of practice it can be an original and different way to roll. To get through the game with any proficiency, however, most players will want to switch to the Wii remote. Step & Roll is certainly entertaining and a decent sequel. However, unless you’re looking for an excuse to break out the balance board, or you’re seriously starving for more Super Monkey Ball action, Step & Roll isn’t much of an improvement over Wii launch sequel, Banana Blitz.