I will, if I may, begin this piece by casting my mind back even further than 2005. The year was 2002, and the much loved, and in the end troubled, Gamecube was released in dear old Blighty. There had been talk and promise of many exclusive games for the console, one being the first title for the brand new franchise Super Monkey Ball. It was developed by SEGA, the video game developer who had not so long before bowed out of the console race thanks to the poorly performing Dreamcast, and had since focused exclusively on making games.
Super Monkey Ball Deluxe marked the franchise’s first release away from the Nintendo family of consoles, combining all the content of the first two games alongside some new and exclusive stuff. Not only were there a mountain of single player levels to play through, but the game also boasted an impressive collection of multiplayer party games for the seemingly forgotten times when you would get your mates over for some proper local competitive gaming.
But what on earth is Super Monkey Ball – I hear you cry. Well, you play as the titular simian who rolls around in said ball and has to traverse a vast amount of floating puzzle platforms, containing all sorts of hazards including, but not limited to, bumpers, steep ramps and flippers. Some levels have secret exit points that would allow you to skip stages, and you would earn an extra life for every 100 bananas you collected. However, getting such rewards usually involved higher risk and provided some tough decisions for you to make. Play it safe or take the risk? It was simple but addictive stuff.
Super Monkey Ball 2 introduced some story strands to its single player mode, instead of you simply playing through a series of increasingly challenging stages. Here the four playable heroes – AiAi, GonGon, MeeMee and Baby – all band together in an effort to stop the scheming Dr Badboon from stealing all the bananas on Jungle Island. Included in Super Monkey Ball Deluxe, it was as endearing as it was entertaining.
As solid and challenging as the single player experience was, Super Monkey Ball Deluxe really shone thanks to its wide selection of local multiplayer party games. It had everything from hurling your monkey down a bowling alley to smashing your monkey down the fairways. It even had a kart racing party game which stands as a sort of precursor to Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing. I have fond memories of losing hours and hours to the fabulous collection of minigames on offer here.
It wasn’t all good news however – one of the main drawbacks of Super Monkey Ball Deluxe on the Xbox was the handling. Even with the improved “S” Xbox controller, moving with the thumbstick never felt quite as fine-tuned as the GameCube’s did, and as a result the more difficult stages became increasingly infuriating. Some such as the “Expert” collection of levels, playable towards the business end of the single player campaign, felt utterly impossible at times.
Super Monkey Ball Deluxe was a great way to introduce Xbox gamers to the franchise, bringing them bang up to date with what had been on offer with a few exclusive stages thrown in to sweeten the deal. However, if you had played previous games in the series then it became much harder to justify the purchase.
Fifteen years later and Super Monkey Ball has a dedicated fanbase, myself included, but aside from another re-release back in 2019 – that of Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD – news on the release front has gone disappointingly quiet. This fan hopes that new life can be injected into the fantastic simian-led platforming action, to prevent it fading away into obscurity. Ultimately, Super Monkey Ball Deluxe represents gaming at its best. Crazy, nonsensical, but a huge amount of fun to play on your own and with your mates.
Let us know your memories of Super Monkey Ball. Was it a game you loved as much as me? The comments section is down below.