Who doesn't love monkeys? I'm not embarrassed to say that I do. Ever since I was a small boy I've wanted a pet monkey, and even today my sister makes monkey noises when she sees me, as if to remind me that owning a pet monkey is a dream that will never come true. Super Monkey Ball obviously seemed very appealing, and the game (and sequel) delivered some great skill-based puzzles and plenty of great multiplayer action. When Super Monkey Ball Adventure was announced, though, I can't have been the only person to wonder if it was really a smart move.
Adventure games and the new fangled adventure platformers require a few elements to achieve greatness: compelling storyline, tight controls, likable characters, variety in gameplay, and impressive production values. As an adventure game, Super Monkey Ball Adventure doesn't meet all that many of these requirements, and the components included from the classic skill-based puzzle games simply aren't as much fun as they could be.
Being cute little monkeys that roll around inside a ball all day long, the story is about as twee as expected. There's chaos in Monkey World and Naysayers are sucking the joy out of everything. We all know that a joyless monkey isn't really a monkey, so it's up to Aiai to end the trouble and bring the feuding monkey kingdoms back together again. Set over five worlds, it's a fairly lengthy adventure, but the whole 'monkey in a ball' mechanic simply doesn't sit well with an adventure game; it's too damn annoying.
You see, Super Monkey Ball built a game around carefully controlling your monkey, trying to get from point A to point B as fast as possible, without falling into the never ending pit of monkey doom. In an adventure game, you don't want to be struggling with the controls as you casually move around the environment. It's like using a space hopper: I'm sure it would be huge fun to time yourself in a race around your house, but if you were forced to move everywhere using one, for the rest of your life, it would become more than a little soul destroying.
With the fundamental problem with the game out of the way, Super Monkey Ball Adventure does do a few things right; namely, mixing up gameplay styles. Throughout the adventure you'll gain new abilities for your ball, including being able to punch, fly, bounce, stick to things, and a few more. To activate these you first have to unlock them and then chant a spell. These chants are a combination of monkey sounds, and while kiddies might appreciate the loveable monkeys yapping on, it'll probably take less than five minutes for most people to reach for the mute button.
Many of the Monkey Ball staples appear along the way, so expect a number of puzzle trays, flying sections, and numerous other mini-game-like activities. In fact, if it wasn't for the frequently irritating task of moving around the environment, the whole thing would be a lot more enjoyable. Even if you become one with the ball, you'll still have to suffer the camera control on the right analogue stick, that for reasons unknown doesn't allow you to invert it. If you're used to this, it won't be a problem, but for everyone else camera control might as well not be there - which it isn't in the near identical PSP version of the game.
Even with all these problems, Super Monkey Ball Adventure wouldn't have been a complete disaster, had it not been for the diabolical loading system. What the guys at Traveller's Tales would have you believe is that loading is seamless, and that you wander around without a load screen popping up between areas. This is true, but it's a bit of a scam. As you are merrily rolling along you'll encounter closed gates and something akin to a hamster wheel tipped onto its side. You must roll around, turning this wheel-like device for what seems like an eternity, before the gate opens and you can move on. Quite how anyone ever thought this was a good idea is beyond me, and it makes moving between areas a huge chore.
If the adventuring gets a little too much to take, you can have a bash at a number of 'classic' Super Monkey Ball mini-games, each accessible outside of the adventure mode. Monkey Race, Target and Fight all return, plus you get a castle destroying game, a tricky balloon popping game, and a bouncing on a grid game. The sad thing is that none of these mini-games are as entertaining as those in the original games. The fifty puzzle trays included seems like a nice touch, giving fans something they'll be expecting, but if you've played through the adventure you'll have already seen what's on offer. If you happen to own the PSP and PlayStation 2 versions, you can transfer your progress in the adventure from one system to the other, which is great, but is destined to be a rather unused feature.
No longer restrained by the puzzle trays, Super Monkey Ball Adventure is a more diverse looking game than the previous titles in the series. The five worlds each look pretty unique, but neither the PlayStation 2 nor PSP version is a graphical tour de force. The PSP game actually holds up well in direct comparison to the home console version, with the PSP's sharp screen and the game's bright colours making for a rather easy on the eye experience. The aforementioned camera problems do get in the way though, and the damn monkeys won't shut up, with every NPM (non-player monkey) oohing and ohhing whenever they can. Thankfully this can be skipped, but you'll have no idea about what you should be doing to progress.
When Super Monkey Ball Adventure came to be, probably during a meeting to discuss the future of the Monkey Ball series, I'm sure it seemed like a great idea, but it really wasn't. The fundamental gameplay created by the 'monkey in a ball' mechanic simply doesn't work within the confines of an adventure title. The mini-games and puzzle trays are fun, but not a patch on those in the 'real' Monkey Ball titles, and unless you must play Monkey Ball on a PSP, there's very little reason to pick this up over Super Monkey Ball Collection.