This article was originally published at Kombo.com on September 25, 2006. It is repubished here as part of Review A Bad Game Day.
Video game franchises have been crossing over from one genre to the next for years. Often times a platformer hero will jump behind the wheel of a go-kart or pick up a tennis racket, but sometimes characters move into genres in which they aren’t really expected. Ever seen a puzzle game spawn a platformer adventure spin-off? Consider Super Monkey Ball Adventure from Sega and Traveller’s Tails for the Nintendo GameCube, Sony PlayStation 2, and PlayStation Portable which attempts to take puzzle game heroes Aiai, MeeMee, GonGon, and Baby and give them a whole world and storyline in which to play.
The story of Super Monkey Ball Adventure (told in flashback, incidentally) involves the forbidden love of a prince and a princess from neighboring kingdoms. Without happiness throughout the land, the proposed marriage can never be. Enter AiAi and the other monkeys of Monkey Ball fame who must travel around the islands of Monearth to perform little odd jobs and tasks for the monkey inhabitants. Accomplishing these tasks raises the total happiness level of the world. For instance, early in the game a monkey sitting on a top hat has lost her little monkey baby. The player is tasked with finding the lost monkling, but the catch is that the baby likes to hide in top hats, and - what a coincidence! - there just happen to be five other monkeys nearby who are all wearing top hats. It's up to AiAi (or whichever of the monkeys the player chooses at the start of the game) to roll around the area, find these monkeys, and roll into them in order to knock the hats off of their heads. The lost baby is in one of the hats, and knocking off the correct hat will reveal the child and bring happiness to the fretting mother. The catch, however, is that hat- wearing monkeys do not like to be bumped by other monkeys inside of small transparent balls. The behatted monkeys will step out of the way of an impending rolling, causing players to have to aim carefully and make last-minute course adjustments. Beyond that, rolling into a hat- wearing monkey at full speed just flattens the monkey into a pancake, hat and all. Eventually the flattened simian will right itself, leaving it open for another collision (but just not so fast this time).
This sort of thing goes on for a long, long time. It seems that every monkey on Monearth has a task for AiAi. One monkey wants help killing creepy weeds, while another needs someone to deliver lunch to her husband, and so on. The idea is that for each mission that is completed, the happiness index of the world increases just a little. As the game progresses the missions increase in difficulty, of course, and eventually the assignments don't come off as trivial little tutorial errands. Before too long AiAi will be asked to find the missing prince and princess, and from there the plot (such as it is) starts to take off.
Unfortunately, the world of a large open 3D adventure game just doesn’t mesh well with rolling a monkey across narrow bridges, up steep hills, or around sharp cliffs. The monkey ball has some weight to it. It has inertia and momentum. It’s just not possible to make a sudden stop or turn the way one might expect Super Mario to do so when he’s running a full speed. That should be expected here; otherwise Super Monkey Ball Adventure would be just another adventure game. The problem is that AiAi and friends are rolling around a world not designed for their unique movement abilities. Monearth is packed with poorly designed places that are either monkey death traps or tedious obstacles. Moving the monkey ball around would be enjoyable if the world were designed with the ball’s strengths and limitations in mind. Instead players are dropped into a world that could easily have come from most any generic 3D adventure game from this generation of gaming. This is the core failure of Super Monkey Ball Adventure, and chances are if this poor design were corrected, the game’s other flaws may not seem as glaring.
A new dimension in the Monkey Ball series is the inclusion of Monkey Chants. During the game AiAi will meet up with special simians who will teach him the legendary magical chants of the monkeys. By tapping out the correct sequence of monkey chatter syllables with the control stick or control pad, the monkey ball acquires new powers and abilities. For example, the first chant adds a giant comical spring-loaded boxing glove to the side of the ball. Pressing the A button causes it to punch, and this punch is required for all kinds of tasks such as breaking large rocks or smashing those creepy weeds' seeds. The chant must be repeated every time one wishes to add the glove back to the ball, as the glove vanishes if AiAi falls from a great height or invokes a different chant. Other abilities granted by the mystical chants include the power to stick to surfaces, the power to float on top of water, the power to roll around at super speed, and several others. Some missions require certain chants, but the game does not indicate which powers are needed for which mission. It's entirely possible to accept, say, the mission involving the creepy weeds and make absolutely no progress because the player does not have the boxing glove chant and does not know that it is needed to progress.
Super Monkey Ball Adventure isn't all adventuring and completing little tasks. Every now and then AiAi will come against a barrier that blocks his path to the next part of Monearth. To lower the barrier he must complete several puzzle challenges in the same style that the original Super Monkey Ball games have made so much fun. In fact, these puzzles are more engaging and more enjoyable than the actual main adventure itself. Unfortunately, the puzzle segments conclude all too quickly, forcing AiAi back on the main quest. However, puzzle-craving players can access these segments straight from the game's main menu, skipping all the forbidden love nonsense. Also included in the package are the popular multiplayer party games such as Monkey Race, Monkey Target, and Monkey Fight, and several other similar challenges. These are fun little extras, but the overall emphasis of the package is the main adventure mode, making these secondary additions fun to play, but not worth the overall price of admission.
Visually there isn't much to hate about Super Monkey Ball Adventure, but there isn't a whole heck of a lot to like, either. The world of Monearth is cavernous and lush all at once which is always nice, and the many monkeys of the land are always walking to and fro, but the whole affair comes off as downright average. There's nothing here that we haven't seen elsewhere this generation. Furthermore, some players will be bitten by the fact that the game does not support progressive scan. The audio, on the other hand, is one of the game's worst features. The short happy-go-lala music compositions that makes up the soundtrack have a nasty habit of looping improperly, meaning that songs may end suddenly, leaving players to wander around Monearth in silence for a few seconds until the song plays over again from the start.
The absolute most infuriating part of the Super Monkey Ball Adventure experience involves the spoken chatter that each and every monkey spouts when AiAi strikes up a conversation. Players must rely on reading text boxes to learn about mission requirements, but for some reason the development team decided to add a spoken voice clip reminiscent of the following dialogue for each and every conversation: "Mon-kee mon-mon kee-mon-kee! Mon-KEE! Mon-mon-kee-mon- kee-kee! MON! KEE! Mon?" This chatter can not be turned off or otherwise silenced. It can be skipped with a press of the B button, however, but doing so also skips to the end of the text where the monkey awaits AiAi's acceptance or refusal to undertake the mission. Basically, skipping the text means that the exact mission goals and details go unknown.
Super Monkey Ball Adventure has a lot of problems. Some are merely skin deep ("Mon-kee! KEE!") while others stem all the way into the root of the game itself. Missions are monotonous, many goals are poorly defined, the level designs play against the gameplay’s supposed strength, and the endless monkey chatter will drive even the most patient player screaming all the way to the mute button. There was a lot of potential in Super Monkey Ball Adventure, and while there may yet be a solid adventure game inside the Monkey Ball formula, this game is not it. It is a dismal, tedious, annoying experience that is not recommended at any price.