Since the introduction of the Nintendo DS, it's fair to say developers have had to think outside the box in order to utilise both screens on the handheld. And recently, developers have had a lot of success when they have used the bottom screen on the DS solely to control a character, such as in Pac N Roll. So, after the relative success of Monkey Ball Jr (on the Gameboy Advance) Sega have taken the next inevitable step and adapted Super Monkey Ball for the Nintendo DS, predictably using stylus control to control your monkey, but is the game just as addictive as it's predecessors or is the franchise starting to go downhill?
Super Monkey Ball Touch and Roll is an entirely new game built from the ground up for the Nintendo DS. There are one hundred levels in the game and a few are new levels. The new levels are intertwined with the older levels but it's easy to tell which ones you've played before. The main single player mode is the Challenge mode, which should remain familiar to fans of the series. You choose to play as either Aiai, MeeMee, Gongon or Baby and rather than go through a certain number of levels you actually go through themed areas such as jungle levels or desert levels. This is a little different because the difficulty level increases, rather than allowing the player to choose a difficulty level from the outset.
The mini games from previous titles have been included, but there aren't as many as we're used too. There are six party games in total, monkey race, monkey fight, monkey bowling, monkey mini golf, monkey hockey and monkey wars. Some of the mini games are good (monkey golf, we love you) whereas some of them are embarassingly bad (monkey war). Sega has thoughtfully included the option for single cart multiplayer so you can play Monkey Race, Monkey Fight and Monkey Hockey with those who don't have a copy of the game, but if you want to play the other three mini games then both players will need a copy of the game.
A game like Monkey Ball really lives and dies by it's controls. The stylus control just doesn't work as well as it should and whilst Pac N Roll had a large playing field, the environments sometimes require precise control and this just isn't all that plausible with the stylus. This problem could have been rectified if the directional pad was any good to control with, but unfortunately the directional pad is stiff and will result in many fallouts. It isn't as easy to "pick up and play" this game as with it's predecessors, but once you get used to the controls it isn't as difficult as it first seems.
It almost seems like pure laziness that a map hasn't been included on the bottom screen either. This is the type of game where a map can be extremely handy and omitting it seems like a very silly decision. The game still gives you a quick aerial overview at the beginning, but a map down the bottom screen would have made it a little easier to keep track.
The visual style of the game definitely differs from what we're used to as well. All of the characters appear to have taken on a comic book look, and it's going to come down to personal preference whether you like this or not. The levels do look mighty good though, and there's a lot of detail in all of them, with some of the levels even having effects like fireworks in the background. The frame-rate is steady and we never encountered any slowdown, even when we were moving at a rapid pace.
The sound is very similar to what we're used to in Monkey Ball games but with one difference. Remember that large announcer that used to yell "Fallout" when you would fall out of the playing field? He's been removed and in exchange there is just big blue text. It's not a huge omission but it was noticable immediately. The music in the background is basically the same as in the console games and it still stays with you long after the Nintendo DS has been turned off.
The single player adventure should last a long time though because there are plenty of levels. It used to actually take one hundred bananas to earn a life but now if you get ten bananas you actually gain a life, which makes it a little easier to amass lives and complete the game. However, it is unlikely most people will have the patience to complete the game because the controls are so off-putting. The multiplayer is the greatest asset of the game and it's surprisingly addictive, although it would have been better if all the mini games were single cart multiplayer compatible and if you could actually play through the stages either in co-op or by taking turns.
Super Monkey Ball Touch and Roll is a bit of a disappointment. The stylus control makes the game a little difficult to control. However, if you can get past this then there is a large variety of levels as well as a lengthy single player campaign and an addictive multiplayer mode. Fans of the series might be a little disappointed because it would have been good if there were more mini games. Super Monkey Ball Touch and Roll isn't the definitive Monkey Ball experience we were expecting, but it can still be a lot of fun.