The original Super Monkey Ball holds a special place in the history of the iPhone as a gaming platform. At launch, it was a recognizable game that was positioned as a showpiece for Apple’s new device. As a franchise born on the Nintendo Gamecube back in 2000, there have been numerous variations of the game founded on the addictive maze-like racer.
Unfortunately, the reception for Super Monkey Ball was generally lukewarm. With the main areas of discontent being unresponsive controls and average presentation, fans of the franchise were understandably let down, considering how the gameplay seems an ideal match for the iPhone.
Tim Burton presents Super Monkey Ball 2.
A little over a year later, Sega has rebounded with the sequel, starring our favorite big-eared monkey in a ball. Super Monkey Ball 2 features a whole new set of 115 levels that are waiting to be conquered. Designed as a more refined version of its predecessor, Super Monkey Ball 2 hardly deviates from the winning formula at all.
Par for the course, you’ll be rolling around many timed bite-sized levels, trying to get to the goal as fast as you can. Some levels will take 5 seconds, while others take as long as 30 seconds, but there is always the risk of losing lives by falling off ledges. It’s easy at first, but getting to the later levels opens up new wrinkles to make life harder. Levels start to have more obstacles, paths have sharper angles, and unseen hazards await your rolling ball. You can save replays from your runs and view them later, too.
Super Monkey Ball 2 improves on the disappointing controls that impaired the original game, yet there’s still room for improvement. The iPhone’s accelerometer still controls your ball’s rotation and acceleration, but everything feels tighter. With death by way of spectacular fall always being a constant threat, it’s great that Sega took the complaints about the controls seriously. For purists like us, who recall loading up the Gamecube classic on that ugly purple system, we would have loved to see a virtual analog stick as an option. Tilt controls provide a more dynamic feel, but harder levels could use the precision that comes with an analog stick.
Gotta eat ’em all.
A new fresh coat of vibrant color and 3D modeling is noticeable now, too. Super Monkey Ball was a decent looking game, but it was faking the funk by using a fusion of sprite and polygonal-based assets in environments that didn’t have much detail. There’s none of that monkey business this time, as Super Monkey Ball 2 is a visual buffet. There’s a persistent high-res sheen that envelopes your screen, and virtually everything is rendered in 3D. The only distraction you’ll have from the awesome graphics is the lame soundtrack. Yeah, we know we aren’t the target demographic for this brand, but the lack of custom soundtracks, official or workaround, is inexcusable.
The improved controls and graphics are welcome and all, but the biggest headline feature in Super Monkey Ball 2 is multiplayer competition. Using a local wi-fi connection, you can go ball to ball with a friend in a 5 level race to the top of the short leaderboard. In theory this would be awesome, but we consistently got connection errors that suddenly ended our intense profanity-laced duels. There’s also a bowling minigame that’s cool, but the same connection issues messed up that action as well.
It’s great that Sega fixed several missteps to make Super Monkey Ball 2 a worthwhile upgrade from the original. The signature charm is intact, and there’s a lot to do on the single-player end. That being said, the multiplayer flaws are glaring, and it’d be a shame if the problems went ignored. With a few critical fixes on its to-do list, Super Monkey Ball 2 has the potential to make the jump from good to great.