Super Monkey Ball is the only truly original Sega title in the first crop of GameCube games, and was produced by Sega's laziest department, Amusement Vision. Essentially the premise is simple: you have some monkeys trapped in large balls, these monkeys need to be guided from one end of a course to another, collecting all the bananas up for grabs along the way.
Graphically, the game is appealing. Whilst not brimming with bells & whistles, high-poly bump-mapped models rule all, and the game runs at a silky framerate. Functional, in a good way. The sound on the other hand is particularly repetitive and twee.
The main mode is where you have to tilt the level by varying degrees to attempt to guide your monkey to the goal. Anyone who remembers the old Labyrinth game with the marbles will feel at home. However, Labyrinth never featured the downright zany levels that Monkey Ball presents. Moving sections, steps & steep slopes, hair-thin bridges, it ain't easy. You'll start struggling by level 10. Considering there are just short of 100 levels, this isn't gonna be a walk in the park for ANY gamer.
The fun doesn't stop with the main game. There are another 6 smaller modes. Their worth to the solo-gamer is somewhat limited, but find yourself 3 companions, and the game takes a whole new dimension. Without a doubt, this is one of the defining multi-player experiences for the GameCube.
Monkey Billiards is probably the most dull mini-game. It plays much how it sounds. Monkey Bowling isn't much better, playing like all those bowling sims of yesteryear. Monkey Golf, the other mini-game, is far more entertaining, and features some of the most bastard courses of all time. Prepare to make enemies.
Monkey Fight is the most obvious of the three party games, where your monkey is placed on a tiny arena with his contemporaries and fitted with a comedy boxing glove, with the winner as the player to score the most KOs within the time limit. Power-ups to increase the size and range of your glove to epic proportions keep things interesting.
Monkey Race is the Mario Kart-esque racing mode where you have to race your monkey around one of the 6 courses against his enemies. Power-ups once again add to the carnage, with weapons to turn the racer in front of you into an ice cube or dodecahedroid to slow them down. Whilst there's only a limited number of tracks, they remain varied and replayable, if tough at times.
Monkey Target is the game of gentlemen. Both relaxing and frustrating, the aim is so far-fetched that only crazy Japanese people could of thought of it. You have to launch your monkey down a ramp at high speed toward the ocean, and send it flying into the air. Once it's in the air, you can open its ball to turn it into a glider, playing the wind to try and navigate towards the large colored targets in the ocean. These targets have varying scores written on them depending on their value, and you have to torn your monkey back into ball-form to land on a target without over-shooting or rolling into the ocean. It takes fsck loads of practice, but experienced players can easily rack up four-figure scores over just a few rounds.
Overall, Monkey Ball is a superb game which has something to appeal to everyone. The only possible bar to the success of the game is the average punter's fear of the unfamiliar - and apes in spheres is pretty unfamiliar. Put aside all doubts. Monkey ball is an essential purchase, and a good reason to part with £130 for the console, if not £75 more for a full compliment of pads.
Gaming Hexus rating: 9/10
(About the Gaming Hexus rating system: The score system is inspired by Edge magazine. Basically, we're bastards. Since 5/10 is halfway between perfect and shite, it's the rating given to average games. By definition, 6 or above is "above average", and probably worth owning. And we really don't hesitate to award low scores for bad games.)