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Super Monkey Ball: Step & Roll - Wii Review

Game Info
Super Monkey Ball: Step & Roll

Wii | SEGA | 1 Player / 2-4 Players (local multiplayer) / 2 Players (co-operative play) | Out Now
Controller Compatibility: Wii Remote (pointer); Balance Board
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31st August 2010; By KnucklesSonic8

Ever since Super Monkey Ball Adventure was released on the Nintendo Gamecube, SEGA has tried different experiments to offer new and innovative methods of play. Most notably, Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz met with a very wide mix of opinions for its new control scheme. Once again, as soon as Step & Roll came into the picture, the game received a fairly-wide range of opinions. So where does a guy like me, a longtime Monkey Ball fan, stand?

    In this entry into the Super Monkey Ball franchise, there are seven themed worlds, each consisting of 10 stages. All of the worlds are represented on a World Map with nicely-decorated icons and brief animations. Each of them are rated on a difficulty scale of up to 5 Stars, serving as an indication of the type of "challenge" you'll need to prepare yourself for. At the start of the game, you'll only be able to access one world, but as time goes on, you'll open up new maps, including the unlockable futuristic environment known as Siliconia. 

    Super Monkey Ball: Step & Roll's main gimmick is the ability to use the Balance Board. You do have the ability to play using the Wii Remote, but for better or for worse, using the Balance Board is the main way to play this game. A majority of games that use this device well (as opposed to simply tacking it on) take time to get used to, and that's the same case here. As such, there's definitely a difficulty curve that comes with playing this game. However, it's not for the same reasons as what'd you come to expect from other Monkey Ball games. 

All of the stages have been designed in such a way that players wouldn't be bumping into lots of hazards, or passing through narrow passageways. Monkey Island, the first world in the game, presents little challenge to begin with, and you'll find it hard to actually go out of bounds. And that's fine, since this level of transition in the difficulty has existed in nearly all the games that belong to this franchise. What follows afterward, however, is what you may not be expecting.

    As you get further into the game, new elements will get thrown into the mix, such as wormholes, and switches. Slowly, the hand-holding will also decrease. The guide rails that existed in the first few worlds will soon disappear almost entirely, making later levels a test of patience and skill. The level designs change as well, from being static to quite dynamic in structure. You'll find that once you reach Far East, the fourth world, you'll be performing a great deal of quick, sharp movements with the Balance Board. Thankfully, the device is up to the task, albeit it may not seem so initially. After spending a good deal of time with it, you'll surely notice an improvement in your balance and perhaps even display less awkwardness. This will lead to occasions where you make an impressive time on a stage, and thankfully, the Replay option allows you to save some of your best performances.

    When opting to play only using the Wii Remote, fixated obstacles will appear in levels to make the game more challenging, as if in acknowledgement of the fact that the game is too easy. And in all honesty, seeing statues, stones and other similar obstacles is very silly. Especially in some stages where there's just so many that a level becomes absolutely cluttered. At least in Co-op Mode, you have the ability to destroy these, preventing them from impeding your progress. But from the standpoint of a single-player affair, it seemed like a lazy approach. It would've been a lot better if they designed a separate set of levels for Wii Remote Play. But of course, that would've been too much work for them.

Monkey Ball games are known for requiring an incredible amount of precision, and patience. Is that carried over here? Well, to some extent, yes. There is definitely some precision involved in the final two levels where you'll move a lot slower and more cautiously. But as a whole, you won't really find yourself displaying a great deal of tension, as you naturally would have done with the classic games. In fact, I can use one hand to count the number of levels that actually frustrated me. Yet, at the same time, beating the entire game with the Balance Board isn't an easy task. And being able to say that I made such an accomplishment does say a lot about the controls.

    This franchise is also very well known for presenting players with some of the toughest puzzles ever created. And you definitely don't see any of that here. Evidently, SEGA wanted to make the game casual-friendly for families and as such, they toned down the difficulty. And an overview of all the stages in the game really exemplify this. In so doing, however, the appeal of this release also decreases, at least in the minds of hardcore Super Monkey Ball players. I'll be the first to admit that skilled players might actually find this game boring to play the normal way. But even when playing the proper way, players belonging to this group will most certainly long for added challenge. 

    I thought it was almost insulting that SEGA actually highlighted that the game has "mind-blowing" puzzle levels at the back of the box for this game. To me, that seemed like little more than false advertising. The stages in this game are hardly mind-blowing at all, especially when compared with stages of old. Don't get me wrong, there are some that are nicely-designed, but there's a lot that show little ingenuity on the part of the developers. 

Replay value is always high in these kinds of games, and that's somewhat true here. Players should find great motivation in beating their best times with the use of the Balance Board. However, much of what makes Monkey Ball games so great is the potential for speed runs and exploring for shortcuts. Unfortunately, that kind of strong focus is barely seen on the surface of Step & Roll. Many of the stages are linear in execution, with only relatively few opportunities for shortcuts in the entire game. This aspect alone is extremely disappointing, as it takes away from what could otherwise be a very replayable game.

    While the levels may not be impressive, what is commendable is the amount of work that went into making this look like great. The visuals are really, really colourful, and the happy-go-lucky atmosphere makes the game come alive. Honestly, I'd much prefer this than what was presented in the original Super Monkey Ball title. Still, I think that they could've been a bit more original with the worlds. They all make use of themes we've seen in Banana Blitz, and even earlier in Super Monkey Ball 2. So some unique ones would've been nice. That aside, I must say that the music in this game is fantastic. I loved the tunes in this game, especially for the main worlds, where the audio transition between stages was really well done. The vocal renditions of the world themes are decent, if not a bit on the cheesy side. But overall, even if there weren't massive changes to the engine from Banana Blitz, I think they did a really good job here.

There are also some other aspects to the game that are deserving of praise. For one, each world has a special banana hidden in one of the stages, which is somewhat reminiscent of the secret banana bunches from Banana Blitz. I did like this, but I'm not sure what SEGA's deal is with introducing these items, then offering no reward once they're collected. That whole aspect seems odd to me. But I digress. I also appreciated the fact that SEGA incorporated an Achievement system into the game. The 'Collection' menu is where all of your special accomplishments are displayed. For example, getting an award for not giving up after repeated continues was especially encouraging to see.

    Probably the most notable feature of them all is the inclusion of the new Marathon Mode. This mode has clearly been designed for those who are in it for the fitness benefits that come from using the Wii Balance Board. The entire setup of having quick entry and exit is great. When you reach the goal in a level, the screen will fade to white, and you'll instantly be teleported to the start of the next level, reducing wait times, and keeping you involved the entire time. For every 10 stages, there's a break in between before you move onto the next level. Marathon Mode has 3 different variations: you can play stages from Worlds 1-3, Worlds 4-6, or 1-6. There's a lot of motivation here to keep on coming back to this for high-scores and for the physical benefits. It's just a shame that the game won't tell you what those darn Monkey Calories stand for in real life.

What's a Super Monkey Ball game without Party Games! Step & Roll includes a total of 21 mini-games, an admittedly small amount compared to Banana Blitz. In addition to some new mini-games like Balloon Race and Firefighter, SEGA brought back some alleged "fan favourites" as well. However, I wish they would have just said, "We brought back games that would work well with the Balance Board". Because, in all honesty, the ones they brought back weren't that great to begin with, and some of my personal favourites from Banana Blitz (like Number Ball, and the ever-so-addicting Monkey Wars) did not return.

    This mode has been designed with the Balance Board in mind, which is why you can even play with up to 4 people even when using the device on most games. To see a developer focus on simultaneous multiplayer with this device is commendable. There are some really fun mini-games in the package, such as Luge, Skydiving, and Starlight Swing. But there are also some dull ones like Sumo Smash and Spinning Top Attack. I've always been a big fan of the Party Games in past Monkey Ball games, but here I came away with a mixed reaction. Some used the Balance Board well, but others either lacked polish, or simply weren't addictive enough to get friends excited for a second round.

    Step & Roll was a risky experiment to be sure, much in the same way as Banana Blitz was. SEGA has created a very user-friendly package that should be a hit with families especially. It's more or less a love/hate sort of game, but if you stick with the Balance Board controls, it can be very rewarding. In fact, I think it's one of the better uses of the device. However, the game also carries some flaws that aren't as easily forgivable, from level design that fails to impress, as well as a low difficulty level that seldom challenges. But if you can find it for $20 or less like I did, and are willing to put time into the controls, it's worth a shot. As much as I enjoyed these last two Wii titles, I'm beginning to fear the future for this franchise. Moving forward, I strongly feel SEGA should go back to the original roots of what made this series so successful to begin with. Because while Banana Blitz and Step & Roll both have merit, they're ultimately not up to the brilliance of the original Gamecube releases. And I think that's something a majority of people can agree on.

22/30 - Good

Gameplay 6/10 - Level designs are very weak for the most part, new elements gradually get added, seeing stages ridden with statues is very silly
Presentation 9/10 - Fantastic music, cartoon visuals are really impressive and totally suitable for the game and the platform it's designed for
Enjoyment 3/5 - Reduce one point if playing without the Balance Board, a lot of fun when playing with it, difficulty curve, final stages can be frustrating
Extra Content 4/5 - Good number of levels, only one unlockable world, achievements, mini-games, high-score and speed run potential

Equivalent to a score of 73% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating)

Review by KnucklesSonic8
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Super Monkey Ball: Step & Roll
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