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Delayed Reactions: Super Monkey Ball 3D (3DS)

By Dave "Boris" Orosz | 07 April 2011 | Delayed Reactions, Editorial, Featured, Reviews | , , , | 0 Comments   
For people who like: Super Monkey Ball, Kart Racing (Super Mario Kart, ModNation Racers, Crash Nitro Kart), Super Smash Brothers, TMNT Smash Up


+  Good variety of games on one cartridge
+  Well made presentations of each genre
+  Great for competitive multiplayer
+  The 3D looks great


-  Non-existant incentives
-  Some awkward physics in Kart Racing
-  Monkey Fight objectives seem counter intuative

I haven’t played much of the Super Monkey Ball series, but I what I have played I’ve enjoyed and Super Monkey Ball 3D continues that trend.  It portrays the traditional Monkey Ball gameplay very well on Nintendo’s new 3DS portable, and throws in two other modes, Kart racing and Monkey Fight to keep the variety flowing.  Both of these additional modes are very good examples of their genres.  I was impressed by the gameplay, and while I would generally recommend it to those with a 3DS, that isn’t to say that there weren’t aspects that keep me from loving the game completely.

Monkey Ball:

For anyone that doesn’t know what Monkey Ball gameplay is like, here’s a brief description:

Here’s a slightly longer description:  You have a monkey in a ball placed on a maze like field.  You as the player tilt the field which moves the monkey.  As you roll around, you attempt to collect as many bananas as you can then get to the goal in the shortest amount of time possible.  One thing I especially appreciate is that the bananas do not re-populate the maze if you die.  Whenever games undo everything I’ve collected, I always get the impression all my progress has been nullifyed.  Super Monkey Ball works very well on the portable console, the 3D effects looks great, especially the translucent monkey ball, and the perception of depth looks well proportioned.  The Monkey Ball mode is overall fun to play.  Before I get into any issues I had with it, let’s discuss a revelation I came to regarding the 3DS.

Monkey Ball offers two modes of play, the motion sensor and the analog stick.  When I use the analog stick, I turn up the 3D and have myself a good old time in three dimensions.  When I play using the motion sensor, I turn off the 3D and have a good old time in two dimensions.  The 3D screen has a sweet spot where you have to look in order to see the depth effect.  When using the analog stick, it’s pretty easy to keep your view in this sweet spot.  I still have the issue occasionally where I get really close to the edge of a platform and find my whole body shifting in the hopes that my will power can shift the character back on course, but generally I don’t have any problems.  With the motion sensor controls, it is impossible to hold this sweet spot while physically tiling the system around.  That means you can play with either 3D or motion controls, not both, and I honestly like playing with either respectively.  I realized that yes, the console can do 3D, but it far from relies in it.  Its 3D is not just a novelty that the success of the console depends on.  It has the rendering capabilities to be beautiful, a motion sensor to vary gameplay, and it has all the capabilities of the DS.  I see this console doing quite well whether it’s in 3D or not, it’s just nice to have 3D as an option.

I’m going to be saying this in regards to every mode of this title, but my problem with the Monkey Ball section is the progression and replayability of the mode.  There are 80 tracks divided among 8 worlds, a fair amount of levels.  The main thing that left me wondering while playing these tracks was that the game doesn’t tell me what my objectives are.  Ok, I have to get a high score, but am I being judged by time or by how many bananas I collect, or both?  When I got top honors I didn’t know what that yielded me within the game.  There are collectibles that don’t really seem to do anything either, so I didn’t feel particularly interested in pursuing them, and hidden accomplishments that I don’t have the slightest clue what actions I would need to perform to unlock.  After I finished a stage I wasn’t sure if there was anything further I could unlock or accomplish by replaying the level.  Had I know I probably would have replayed the worlds in greater depth.  I get the impression that players who get the greatest enjoyment out of Monkey Ball will replay each stage learning how to move around every corner with ease for high score bragging rights.  I play the game with a smile, I enjoy it, but I can’t help but play with a hint of confusion.

The difference between the characters isn’t presented like it is in the other modes with strength ratings, so I don’t really know which character I should be using on which course.  I didn’t even really notice a difference between them until I turned on the motion sensor controls.  The analog controls are much more precise than using the motion sensor controls so any subtleties in the characters are less apparent.  While I enjoy both, I think the motion sensor is more fun to use.  It genuinely surprises me that I prefer the less precise, non 3D way to play the game.  The sensor behaves exactly the way I anticipate it should and it’s genuinely fun to play as such.  The only annoying thing is that you can’t switch from motion to analog mid game.  If you commit to one, you have to play through the level series with that control.  The game overall could have used some camera controls, turning around can be disorienting, but overall the controls are pretty solid.

So, if you’re a self motivated player and don’t need the game to tell you what you should be pursuing, you will really enjoy playing the Monkey Ball mode.  It’s 80 stages of what you’ve come to expect from Monkey Ball and it’s bunches of fun.

Monkey Race:

Monkey Race is all in all a good representation of the kart racing genre, but it also reminds me that playing the kart racing genre doesn’t make me feel good inside.  It makes me feel frustrated and angry when I play against computer controlled players, whereas I enjoy it much more when I play against people.  The frequent complaint with most kart racing games is the “rubber banding”, or when you and your competition go from first to last back to first far too quickly and easily.  This game certainly has some rubber banding, though not as bad as I’ve seen in some other games.  It balances the types of weapons you can pick up based on your position.  First positions have more projectiles, middle positions have moves that distrupt racers and back positions have the super powerful game changers.  There are some inconsistencies and issues in the actual racting though that I can’t help but feel get used against me during gameplay and anytime I spend every lap in first place only to suddenly drop to last place over something ridiculous and awkward does not make me a happy gamer.

When the karts bump into each other, it’s difficult to assess who’s going to feel the biggest impact.  I always felt like I was being knocked around if I tried to charge through someone even if I thought I should have an advantage from either being at top speed, triggering a turbo, or even having bumpers on the sides of my car through an item pickup.  I’d try to graze across someone and knock them off the map, but I’d fly off the other edge of the road.  The game really doesn’t encourage bumping into players, so keep that in mind.

The physics are probably the weakest thing in the game, and is part of what I was talking about in the above statements.  If I was ever moving too slowly and drove off a angled platform, the wheels attempted to stick to the ground turned my kart in odd directions.  I drove off the edge of the road countless times from issues like this.  There’s a half pipe section that has booster pads all over it, but if I went too fast, the game couldn’t figure out where I was and the movement became completely unpredictable.  These issues made the game feel a bit wonky at times when I was hitting collisions moving too slowly or too quickly.  It seems like an unfortunate polishing issue, but nothing that would really spoil the game for me.

The drifting is a bit counter-intuitive.  When you hold the button to drift, the car itself spins.  When you let go it orients itself at the angle the game registers the car should be.  The player can easily lose track of what this orientation is, especially over long drifts because the camera lags a little behind the kart.  There are a couple of places on the tracks that I frequently fall of the edge because the kart is angled further than I can see on the camera, so I have a hard time trying to adjust for a hazard I can’t see yet.  There’s a large corkscrew spiral that is particularly difficult because of this.  Once you get the hang of it, it’s not so bad, but I still would have preferred a more accurate way to gauge my kart’s direction.

The 3D and the tracks are quite good.  Most people I handed the game to had a hard time figuring out whether to focus on the kart or the track ahead.  The kart is the most prevelant 3D object on the screen.  Here’s a pro tip though, focus on the track.  If you focus your attention on the track ahead and makes it easier to gauge what’s coming up, and the 3D allows you to see greater detail in the distance between you and the walls and when to time your drifts.  The tracks frequently have numerous routes that range from useful to ridiculously difficult on a scale that I wish was more balanced.  Taking a wrong path can easily put you from first to last, especially because some have timed hazards that you have to wait to pass.  I enjoyed the variety of the levels, I just wish there were more than 9.

Like I mentioned before, my issue with this mode is again longevity and progression.  I played it for a while, but with no real concept of what actions would reward me with what prizes.  After a while I figured out that cars are unlocked by playing the Time Trials.  The characters, who have no real bearing on the gameplay, were unlocked by winning the Grand Prix series.  Once you have enough cars there’s really nothing more to do with the mode.  There are only 9 tracks, 3 of which are severly difficult, so a third of the game is expert mode.  The replayability and ideal enjoyment of this mode when the Grand Prix is done is really playing multiplayer with others.  I’ve placed first on all three of the Grand Prix series and I’m content not delving back into it single player.  I’d like a real opponent.

Monkey Fight:

I started out playing the Monkey Fight with very low expectations.  I though it was going to be some monkeys in balls rolling around in some odd sumo wrestling knock out game.  I was very wrong.  The game plays like Super Smash Brothers.  You have four monkeys on a side scrolling level beating the crap out of each other, trying to knock their opponents out of the level and steal their bananas.  It quickly became my favorite mode until I understood the nuances of the mode, then I just as quickly became irritated.  The mode is fun, you just have to know what your objective is, otherwise you’ll lose when you feel like you’re winning.

The goal is not something like Super Smash Brothers, where you need to beat up the opponents to win.  It’s a scavenger game.  You need to have the most by the end of the round.  When you get hit you lose bananas, but your opponent doesn’t automatically get the bananas that they beat out of you.  Your bananas fall on the ground around you which means that the advantage goes to any monkey who isn’t fighting, who is running around the map picking up the bananas other monkeys are dropping.  This is fine for gameplay, but it was not what I was expecting and I kept trying to fight hard, quickly and efficiently yet I was still losing.  Once I figured out I had to take a step back and play a keep away game, I won more often.  Even knowing how to play still contradicts what I inherently feel I should be doing in the mode.  Once you’ve made this transition of thought, you’ll enjoy it much more and it is genuinely fun when you’re playing correctly.

It’s odd that the disadvantage goes to the fighting monkeys.  There are frequently attack animations that cause the player to stall for a moment after making a strike.  I cannot count how many times I had knocked nearly all the bananas from a character and didn’t get a chance to pick any of them up.  You really need to be light on your feet and pick characters that can hit and retreat quickly.

The 3D is a little more wonky on this mode versus the other modes.  More bananas are fed onto the playing field by a floating pirate ship firing barrels from the background.  It’s easiest to see when new bananas are being fired in 3D because of the extra depth.  You can then quickly move to where the barrel will land and collect the bananas before other monkeys steal them.  My issue with the 3D comes from anytime the camera shifts.  There is a grab move where the camera zooms in and completely changes the depth proportions.  It isn’t necessarily disorienting, it’s just offensive to my focus.  There are button mashing prompts coincide with various actions that will frequently overlay poorly in the 3D space, sinking into solid objects in an unnatural way.  Again, not disorienting, just odd.

And yet again, I didn’t really know what I was working towards in this game.  There are five modes of play that range from Super Punches, to Exploding Barrels and one mode that just randomly switches between them.  Getting first place on any of these modes gets you a new character.  At no point is it clear that this occurs and it doesn’t say which modes you’ve cleared once you’ve unlocked the characters.  I unlocked six characters for clearing the six modes, but there are two unlockable characters remaining and I have no idea how to get them.


The game really does a good job at providing well made representations of three different genres in one game.  My biggest gripe with the game is that it doesn’t do anything to teach the player how to play, or what there is to do past the core gameplay.  There are other things in there, I just have no idea what they are.  I’d have to take the time and figure it out myself or find a guide.  As for the gameplay, the Monkey Ball, Monkey Race and Monkey Fight are all individually a lot of fun.  It does each one well enough that depending on who you are, you might have a different favorite from the person sitting next to you.  That’s really what a compilation game of this type should hope to achieve.  None of the modes feel tacked on or unrefined.  I might have my issues with specific aspects of each mode, but all in all it’s definitely a good display of what these genres can do on the 3DS and is definitely worth the purchase if you enjoy all three.  If you buying the game only for the sake of one of the games, the value changes since no one mode is particularly long.  If you’re looking for a 3DS game with some variety, Super Monkey Ball 3D is not a bad way to go.

Publisher: Sega
Developer: Dimps
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Copy of Super Monkey Ball 3D provided by Sega.

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