The original Super Monkey Ball proved somewhat of a cult hit when it first appeared on the Nintendo GameCube so itâ€™s no surprise that Nintendo and Sega have brought a handheld series addition to the DS. For those gamers whoâ€™ve never experienced Super Monkey Ball, the game mechanics are incredibly simple and devilishly addictive in nature: you control a clear on-screen ball that houses a cute monkey, and you direct said monkey to roll his or her ball through various obstacle-riddled environments and perilous platform levels. Sounds easy, but itâ€™s not. Yet the decision to bring Super Monkey Ball to the DS with Touch & Roll adds an extra element to the established control scheme and gives players with twitchy fingers more defined and instant access through the DSâ€™s touch screen and stylus.
Touch & Roll allows players to manipulate the direction and speed of their Monkey Ball by simply pressing the stylus (or finger) to a static 2D representation of it, which is placed prominently on the bottom screen of the DS. Pressing the stylus to the very top of the ball will prompt the monkey within to animate forwards, and the in-game Monkey Ball on the upper game screen then reacts accordingly. Pressing the base of the ball will cause the Monkey Ball to slow and go backward, and obviously any implemented degree of touching on the sides of the 2D ball will incur sharp or shallow turns on the game screen. As an additional cute touch to the gameâ€™s touch screen component, the 2D monkey character reacts physically to the actions played out on the upper screen. Teetering on the brink of a high platform causes the monkey to look suitably terrified, whereas racing headlong down a steep incline will see it scrambling frantically for purchase against the inside of the ball.
The gameâ€™s central point of interaction is Challenge mode, and here players can select from one of the four available monkey pilots (AiAi, MeeMee, Baby, and GonGon) and then embark on a 10-stage challenge in progressively more difficult worlds. Initially only â€˜Wild â€˜Nâ€™ Windyâ€™ is open for play, but completion of its 10 stages soon grants access to further world challenges such as â€˜Junglistic Journeyâ€™ and â€˜Blistering Sandsâ€™. Core gameplay is simple enough in principle and basically revolves around successfully reaching the arched â€˜Goalâ€™ at the end of each level, while attempting to collect scattered bananas along the way. 10 bananas grant a single extra life, and so careful collection eventually proves invaluable, especially as certain levels gleefully suck you dry of attempts as you plummet to failure time and time again. In most gaming instances, the frustration levels often triggered by Touch & Rollâ€™s sudden and ludicrous difficulty would cause the pounding of hardware and distinct outbursts of blue language, yet the gameâ€™s overwhelming charm will see players happily restarting a 10-stage world and working back to its levels of dread, simply because Touch & Roll is so unfailingly loveable.
Beyond Challenge mode, players can also opt for Practice mode, which gently introduces the control mechanics via Wild â€˜Nâ€™ Windyâ€™s 10 stages, and then also serves as a pressure-free zone to work on any level in any world unlocked during Challenge mode. Touch & Roll also offers up a collection of Party Games, which are: Monkey Race, Monkey Fight, Monkey Hockey, Monkey Wars, Monkey Bowling, and Monkey Mini Golf. All the Party Games, of course, feature the same basic control premise as in Challenge mode, and see your chosen monkey in fun-filled bursts of action against either the DS or friends (using a combination of single-card download sharing, or Nintendoâ€™s global WiFi service). The Party Games are all relatively simplistic but they still succeed in creating a flipside to the central Challenge mode. For example, Monkey Race exists as a nod to Mario Kart and includes sporadic power-up items that can boost your Monkey Ball or be used against the opposition. Whereas Monkey Hockey is much like table-based air-hockey, but here the stylus is used to control the â€˜Smasherâ€™ and send the ball back at the opposing goal. All the Party Games are wonderfully easy to grasp and make for some well-absorbed distraction.
In terms of presentation, Touch & Roll certainly exudes a slickly applied visual and aural charm, without really pushing the DS to its limits. The upper game screen portrays crisp, colourful and fun images from the off, though theyâ€™re perhaps likely to strike more of a chord with the younger demographicâ€”indeed, the first thing you see upon starting the game is AiAi dancing with his back to you while his rear end is protruding above a â€œTouch Meâ€ speech bubble). That said, the progressive level environments are all thoughtfully designed and appealing to look at, and their welcoming atmospheres cleverly hide the sometime massively difficult challenge held within. Game sound is never short of pleasing, and the constant upbeat score jogs comfortably alongside the gameplay without ever grating against the eardrums. The individual monkeys are fabulously voiced depending on your actions with the stylus and, for example, they whimper in cautionary fear if rolling on the edge of a drop, and scream in wild excitement when hurtling through chutes or down steep inclines, all of which will never cease to coax a smile from the player.
The integration of â€˜touchingâ€™ to Super Monkey Ballâ€™s control scheme may translate as somewhat sour to those players already accustomed to the GameCube version, and the lack of an analogue stick on the DS will only compound that sensation. The DSâ€™s directional pad can also be used to control the Monkey Ball, but it lacks genuine accuracy, especially when navigating moving platforms. The stylus methodâ€”though undoubtedly tricky to masterâ€”is certainly the better option and allows an in-game immediacy that perhaps even an analogue stick couldnâ€™t offer. However, itâ€™s not without fault, and certain levels will test player mettle to the extreme while fighting to maintain movement control through delicate stylus corrections on the gameâ€™s sometimes fast-moving platforms and unforgiving surfaces. Patience is a virtue, though, and player perseverance should eventually reap its reward, and, as stated earlier, any mounting frustrations are soon forgotten because Touch & Roll is simply impossible to dislike.