The first Super Monkey Ball caught everyone by surprise when it was ported to the Gamecube from the arcade. This evolution of Marble Madness was simple to learn, hard to master and featured a fun to play campaign mode and mini games. Thanks to the success of that first game, Super Monkey Ball has grown into a profitable franchise for Sega. However, the steady flow of sales has not led to a steady improvement in quality. In fact, I would go as far as saying that none of the Monkey Ball games since the original have surpassed the quality of the first. Some of the entries in the series are flat-out bad.
Prior to my impulsive purchase of Sakura Edition on the iPad, I had been burned twice by Super Monkey Ball sequels. I caved on the iPad version because I was still starved for new iPad-specific games and it was on sale for $5. Is this the game that brings the series back into top form?
The iPad edition of Super Monkey Ball makes a great first impression. The graphics are nearly as good as the Gamecube games and the sound is exactly what you would expect it to be. The menus indicate that there are a lot of levels in the main campaign and you have a lot of mini game options as well. Unfortunately, poor controls really hurt the experience.
In the main campaign mode, where you navigate your monkey ball through elaborate mazes, you control the ball by tilting the iPad in the direction you want to go. This was a terrible experience in the first iPhone version. In that game, the game didn’t make it clear how your movement was being translated into the game, and it didn’t make it clear where the “dead zone” was. The iPad version tries to alleviate that stress by giving you an interface element that graphically displays how you’re holding the device, which in theory, would better allow you to move the way you want to. However, even with that extra information, I still found it to be a pain moving my ball around the screen. There are a number of levels I would be able to beat easily using a regular controller that I was getting pummeled on in the iPad game because I couldn’t get a hang of the controls. iPads aren’t the lightest devices in the world. Having to hold that device in specific positions for a period of time will wear you out faster than you think. The other big control problem that Monkey Ball has is that you’re constantly moving the screen as you play. The constant change of perspective made me physically sick playing it.
Even if the main game wasn’t great, I may have been able to get my money’s worth with some good mini games. Unfortunately, good mini games aren’t here. The ones that are in the game don’t control well and even if they did, still wouldn’t be fun. I’m actually kind of appalled at how incomprehensible the Monkey Bowling controls are. You would think that making sense of a bowling game would come quickly to just about anyone, but I still have no idea how to actually play it properly. What sucks even more is that by the looks of it, these mini games would still be boring if the controls did work properly.
Don’t let the franchise name and the pretty presentation fool you. This game falls short of the standards set by the first Super Monkey Ball game on Gamecube. Even without using that original game as a basis, the frustrating controls don’t make this one very fun to play. Save your iTunes money for something else.