Super Monkey Ball Touch & Roll is the latest attempt by Sega to incarnate a version of their puzzle-like game on yet another platform. This time around, the globed simians try to roll their way into gamers' hearts on Nintendo's DS while making use of the touch screen. When I tried the game I was appalled, but fortunately some time showed me that the game wasn't a throw-away port effort from the developers-and I found a magic moment where I enjoyed time spent with my favorite simian pal, Baby.
I imagine Super Monkey Ball's basic concept is familiar to most gamers. The player controls a monkey trapped in a ball. (Perhaps there are bananas involved because these four monkeys seem content with their lot in life.) Rather than controlling the ball directly, the player tilts the entire level, just like those toys where one rolls a steel ball through a maze by tilting the board surface. This is a straightforward concept which promotes an instant "aha" for new players, making for a true pick-up-and-play experience. It also sounds like a good recipe for a portable game playable in short bursts.
The biggest weapon in Touch & Roll's arsenal of gamer appeal is the monkeys themselves. For some reason unknown to me, most gamers are crazy about monkeys, and the formula of a monkey running-er, rolling-around in a ball generally appeals to the gaming audience looking for comedic gold. That takes care of the "Roll," but the "Touch" is where this Super Monkey Ball failed spectacularly. I was a big fan of the original game on Gamecube. The same gameplay is present in Touch & Roll, but there is one thing missing through no fault of the game: an analog stick.
I'm not a fan of analog emulation; I didn't like Super Mario 64 DS for that same reason. I don't like trying to use a thumb or stylus on a hard surface, attempting to recreate the fluid control provided by a dedicated stick. My initial playtime with this game annoyed me because I couldn't adjust to precise control with the stylus, and maneuvering a monkey ball around a snaking, windy course definitely requires precision. The core gameplay was still there, although not as pretty, and definitely without the Gamecube's great soundtrack to back it up. But with the core gameplay marred, I couldn't find the point of playing this game, and I dreaded spending more time with it for this review.
Then I discovered Monkey Mini Golf, which raised both my spirits and my opinion of the diminutive cartridge. It was the magic moment where I was suddenly pleased to have gotten my hands on Touch & Roll. I found the courses which grew in challenge to be engaging and not hindered by the stylus interface. There are five other mini games, and I found Monkey Bowling (another former favorite) to be the other standout, allowing the amount of ball spin and thrown speed to both be affected by the way the stylus is drawn on the screen. If I had another gamer to play these with wirelessly, I'm sure they would be a blast, if I were to judge by Monkey Bowling challenges on the ol' Gamecube.
The mini games were entertaining for a bit, and after my mini golf excitement I found the main game less annoying, but overall I was disappointed with Super Monkey Ball Touch & Roll. It's not the fault of the game itself: the developers have done a fine job, and the ability to have multiplayer mini games is appreciated-even without my beloved Monkey Target! Sadly, I couldn't get past the use of the stylus on what is supposed to be the main event. I did overcome my initial negative mindset ("I can't believe Monkey Ball played better on the N-Gage"), and I'll no doubt be happy to break out the above-mentioned mini games now and then, but for the most part I don't think this is worth the purchase. I suppose even monkeys can't be entertaining all the time.