You might think a game centered around young monkeys — trapped inside hamster balls — battling an evil baboon (named Dr. Bad-Boon no less) would be lame, contrite and possibly even *gasp* kiddy. But you my friend, would be wrong. Sega and Amusement Vision bring you exactly that, complete with 150 fun and frustrating stages as well as twelve ADDICTIVE mini-games.
The plot behind the game is very basic but thanks to some downright corny script writing and great animations, it gives you some very amusing between-level cut scenes. Dr Bad-Boon has stolen all the bananas from Jungle Island and plans to force the monkeys to be his friends. Here we meet our main hero, Ai Ai. He’s joined by Baby, Gon Gon and MeeMee who is also the target of Dr. Bad-Boon’s affection. Ai Ai vows to get the bananas back and Dr. Bad-Boon, being the sporting type, gives him the chance. However to retrieve the island’s bananas the group will have to work their way through his series of mazes and puzzles. The game itself is kicked into gear after what can only be described as a hilarious song and dance number by our heroes to summon their magical monkeyball powers.
The learning curve seems lax at first, especially if you played the original Super Monkey Ball. I say seems because after you beat the first 20-30 courses you will slowly find yourself having more and more trouble passing each and every maze. By the time you reach the 5th set of puzzles, you may well be banging your controller against your skull in frustration. I’m sad to report that this practice did not help me best the levels any faster. I didn’t know what to expect when I picked up the controller but SMB2 delivered much more depth than I thought it could.
Maybe even more impressive than the main game itself is the expanded array of mini-games available for you to battle AI opponents or mash buttons with up to three friends. You can try to smack your opponent off the edge in monkey fight or best them in a game of monkey billiards. Maybe you’d rather take a stab at their crazy spin on baseball or play Virtua Striker-esque soccer. There’s still many more to try including monkey bowling complete with normal or crazy lanes (possibly the most fun I’ve ever had playing anything with 3 friends). Monkey target lets you soar through the air and attempt to land on a target area for points. Monkey race is pretty self-explanatory, although it’s harder than it looks, which is basically the theme for this entire game. Monkey boat frustrated the heck out of me, as I couldn’t find the proper rhythm for my kayak oars. Monkey tennis is fun and reminiscent of the recent Virtua Tennis games, although obviously with a cartoonist-like spin. Monkey golf gives you the option of playing normal holes or crazy holes, or both. Golf rivals bowling for sheer fun factor. Monkey dogfight lets you take your character into an aerial battle while monkey shoot is a simplistic target shooter. “Woke up this mornin’, and got yourself monkey a gun.”
Graphically speaking the game is solid. It may lack the state of the art graphics that Gamecube is capable of, but at the same time, it excels where it needs to. The frame rate is a Gibraltar-solid 60 fps. Combine that with the Sega trademark smoothness and you get a game that is visually enjoyable, and that’s without having to push the polygon count into the stratosphere. Bright, vibrant colors and great animations with both the characters and environments are the final touches, making SMB2 look as fun as it plays.
The only area I find this game to be anything less than outstanding in is sound. The sound effects themselves are solid. The impact noises in the levels are good, and the monkey sounds are part of the reason that the MAGICAL MONKEY BALL DANCE OF DOOOOM is so funny. Where the wheels fall off is on the musical side. The various themes do gel well with the different areas but after hearing them once or twice, you just want to hit the mute button and forget they ever existed. There is a very high annoyance factor here to say the least. But one minor flaw can’t take away from the rest of the package though.
What Sega and Amusement Vision give us gamers here surpasses all expectations. You get a sometimes silly, sometimes maddeningly frustrating time; whether you’re delving into the story mode or ripping it up with friends in the mini-games. Sega and AV packed in the fun while keeping it challenging, something that many companies seem to have trouble with these days. This is yet another reminder of why Sega immediately became the #1 third-party game publisher when they went software-only; Super Monkey Ball 2 is definitely the blueprint that party games of the future will strive to match.