Games for Lunch: Super Monkey Ball 2
Developer: Other Ocean
Release Date: Dec. 2, 2009
System: iPhone/iPod Touch
ESRB Rating: N/A
Official Web site
0:00 My first experience with iPhone gaming was playing the first Super Monkey Ball on a friend's brand-new phone just after it launched. I found the game to be an impossible-to-control mess, which is a shame, because I loved the console Super Monkey Ball games. Here's hoping this one is an improvement.
0:01 A few logos, then right to the title screen, with a picture of the four core Monkeys and some bouncy, catchy music. Baby has on a Geordi La Forge visor for some reason.
0:02 Mini-games? There are mini-games? Nice! I'll save them for dessert, though. For now, it's on to the main game. There's an option for a tutorial, but I think I know how this works by now and just dive in.
0:03 I pick Gongon, because he's the biggest and manliest of the available monkeys by far. I can spin a globe around to choose what world I want, but everything except for Jumble Jungle is an inky black. Let's do this!
0:04 "Welcome to Super Monkey Ball 2. Let's cover a few basic tips before getting into the game." Wait ... I thought I skipped the tutorial. Oh well. Tilt the iPod to move ... a tilt meter in the corner shows whether you're centered or not. I roll forward down an arrow-straight path and reach the white light as instructed. I like how the game treats holding the iPod downward at a natural, 45-degree viewing angle as "centered." Too many other games force you to hold it level and look straight down.
0:05 A second tutorial level introduces turning, with nice high walls to protect me from falling to my doom. Turns are a little shallower than I expect, but when I slow down they get sharper. So far the controls feel entirely natural and intuitive. I think they may have actually gotten it right this time.
0:07 Apparently I only have to collect 10 bananas to get an extra life. I'm pretty sure it was 50 on the console games. Does this mean they think I'll be needing a lot of extra lives? Or will there just be fewer bananas than before?
0:08 My first real level: a straight shot along a wide field with some perpendicular hills crossing my path. Nothing too tough. The second level has me stepping down stair-like platforms with large holes in the middle and requires some slight movements to collect bananas along the edges. Nothing the iPod can't handle, it seems. The constantly shifting camera might take some getting used to for novices, though.
0:11 The third level wants to test my speed control, sending me down a big ramp and through down a narrow un-walled alley. I accidentally drift slightly to the sides on my first two tries, careening into the void. Poor little monkey in a ball...
0:13 Level 4 is a twisting corkscrew with high banking walls, forcing me to manage some interesting centrifugal forces as I go. The physics are just as tight as in the console games, even if the 3-D graphics are a little blockier.
0:15 On to a banana-filled bonus stage. A few small, square, raised divots are the only obstacle. Where's my bonus-level music? This is just the normal level music. I love that bonus-level music!
0:18 The next level is literally on rails, with a long section of connected railroad tracks with protective barriers guiding me easily along the curves and right to the goal. I wish the game would stop babying me, already.
0:19 I end up taking the long way around a massive square path in Level 7, collecting all the bananas and getting a "Perfect!" message as my reward. Nice of them to acknowledge my greatness, finally!
0:20 I need to control my speed to get through Level 8's massive opening and closing doors. The controls require a light touch, but so far they've been amazingly responsive. I haven't had to glance at the tilt meter at all. It just feels right.
0:22 A rollercoaster-like set of hilly half-pipes, then a banana-filled straight-shot with a few tiny, incidental ramps, and "Congratulations! You have completed the first set of: JUMBLE JUNGLE!" Great. Now bring on the challenge, please!
0:23 Huh? Jumble Jungle is still the only available world. Ah, but now I can play levels 11-20. OK then...
0:24 Comically oversized red hammers swing back and forth in the valleys between some long, straight hills. I mis-time my movements and get hammered with ridiculous force over the edge. Gongon flies around the inside edges of his ball, looking quite worried as he falls to his doom. Too cute!
0:26 In Level 12 I slot myself between two rails and just glide effortlessly to the finish. Seriously? This is barely interactive, here.
0:28 Ah ... two levels later those rails connect a series of floating islands. I have to line my ball up just right to settle in, falling four times on a downhill sloping set that's hard to see. I finally learn to slow things down and make it through on my fifth try. This isn't the kind of challenge I was expecting...
0:31 Another bonus stage, this one in a shallow bowl-shaped level, with bananas arranged in a circular target configuration. Sixty seconds is plenty of time to rides the lips and get a "perfect." I just gained back all those lives I lost, too.
0:34 I like the way banana collection seems to act as a "make-your-own-challenge" addition to the levels. I can just take the relatively straight path to the exit, or I can meander around the narrow, hilly platforms and try to go for that "perfect" ranking. Nice design, there.
0:37 I'm already down to 20 percent of my battery. The iPod was almost fully charged when I started. Man, these 3-D games are battery hogs...
0:38 I get greedy going for the final bananas on a spiraling course, bump into a wooden bumper and go flying off the edge. When I come back, I have no bananas to distract me and finish easily. It's really like two different games, depending on whether or not you care about bananas.
0:39 "Congraulations! You have unlocked Pirates Ocean." There's no apostrophe in Pirates? So it's an ocean MADE of pirates?
0:40 Let's check out the mini-games. There's bowling and ... "Coming Soon" and "Coming Soon." The unused icons look like Monkey Target and Monkey Golf. Oh man, I wasted SO much time on Monkey Target on the GameCube. How do I unlock it? ARGH!
0:42 So I slide left and right to choose my monkey ball's starting position on the lane, then swipe up to launch it toward the pins. During it's trip, I can tilt the iPod to add a curve. My first shot hits the pocket perfectly, but ends up as a split. Grumble.
0:43 The pins seem to fly as if they're hollow. No ... not just hollow, but weightless. There's no real believable pin action ... they just fall down and away amazingly quickly. Also, I'm relatively sure I just saw one pin fly THROUGH another. I just don't have that sense of fine control I had in the console Monkey Bowling games. I am not impressed.
0:47 I rush through a complete game, getting one strike and a ridiculous seven splits despite what I feel are decent shots. My final score is a pathetic 90. Well, I won't be playing that one again...
0:50 Back to the main game and the Ocean of Pirates, then. Besides the new music and darker playfields, the main difference here is fewer railings and slightly curvier levels. There are still railings on some of the harder turns, but they're not everywhere, which is nice. The difficulty is definitely ramping up nicely.
0:52 Another level with a set of perfectly straight railings connected a few islands. As a test, I try to just tilt forward at full speed and see if I can go straight enough to make it to the exit. It should work, but I guess my hands shake imperceptibly or something, because I go off center slightly and get knocked into the void.
0:54 Ooh, I like this angular level. The edges are just high enough to stop it from being frustrating, but they're low enough to stop you from just going through at full speed without worrying about dying. More, please!
0:58 I finished the current level with 0.90 seconds left. I think I'm being too cautious with my speed, worried that I won't be able to turn around quickly enough if I have to. Maybe the controls aren't perfect after all ... but they're still pretty darn good.
1:00 I just died twice trying to cross a really narrow plank at a 45-degree angle to the platforms it's connecting. Now THIS is what Monkey Ball is all about.
Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes.
Why? They definitely fixed the controls, and the level design is beginning to show some of that signature Monkey Ball challenge and inventiveness.
This column is based on a final downloadable version of the game provided by the publisher.