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AiAi steps onto a balance board and decides that he likes the experience, so SEGA develops a game to make him happy…
It’s a partnership that makes a lot of sense really. Super Monkey Ball’s traditional gameplay is based on tilting, balancing, and rolling around a game environment as a monkey in a ball. On the other hand, Wii Fit’s balance board is now in over 18 million households worldwide. If SEGA hadn’t utilised Nintendo’s balance board in the latest Super Monkey Ball game, then it would’ve been a crime so heinous as to make AiAi cry for months until SEGA offered him a shipping container full of bananas as a peace offering.
Our recent first look at Step & Roll revealed all the trimmings of a classic SMB game, only with the addition of balance board controls (the same Wii Remote controls to those of Banana Blitz are also available for those of you without the board). We were taken through a few of the levels in the game’s main campaign, which all followed the same classic formula: move your Monkey Ball around a track or ‘board’ collecting as many bananas as possible while reaching the finishing line as quickly as possible.
Get In The Groove
A few tweaks to the classic recipe were evident in places though. For example, to ease players into the trickier balance board controls, SEGA has added grooves in some of the early levels. These grooves act as tracks through a level, with all of the banana pick-ups being placed along the track and on into the finishing line. As long as gamers can get their Monkey Ball into the groove, then it’s fairly straight forward to pick-up all the bananas en-route, while only an excessively jerky motion on the balance board will knock the Monkey Ball out of the groove again.
However, these grooves will get phased out of the levels as the campaign progresses and SMB’s typically steep difficulty curve comes to the fore. Unfortunately, our first look only included some of the early levels, which means we didn’t get to see any of the harder stuff and whether or not Step & Roll will include some of the boss battles seen in Banana Blitz. In fact, SEGA were keeping schtum about pretty much everything to do with the game apart from what was immediately apparent in our first look.
Ai-Ai and co step up to the balance board...
We were given a run-down of the controls though, which appear to have been applied to the balance board with a decent amount of common sense. Tilting forwards moves the Monkey Ball forwards and speeds it up progressively, while the same can be said for moving left, right, and backwards as well. Some intelligent design has been implemented between the camera and balance board however, so that if players rest their weight in the middle of the board for a moment and bring the Monkey Ball to a stop, then the camera will do a gradual 180 degree turn to face in the opposite direction.
In addition to the single-player campaign, SMB: Step & Roll will also ship with the usual menagerie of mini-games, of which all the multiplayer mini-games will support up to 4 players. However, only one balance board can be used in these multiplayer games, which effectively relegates the 3 other players to Wii Remote controls. Having said that, who actually owns more than one balance board? We can just imagine a family of fitness fanatics all having their own personalised balance boards and sighing in unison at the prospect of not being able to play SMB with their own kit. By the way, if that family is your family, then you sound pretty weird.
SEGA wouldn’t reveal how many mini-games will be in the final game or what proportion of them will be new to the SMB series, although we were told that there will classic favourites and new additions. Our first look included demos of three of these SMB side portions though, which started with one called ‘Red Light/Green Light’ (American readers will instantly recognise the name, while UK readers might now it better as ‘What’s The Time, Mr. Wolf?’)
If you’ve no idea what we’re talking about at all, then it’s a classic game for kids where a Wolf stands with his back facing a group of players at the end of a playing area. The Wolf then periodically turns around to try and catch players trying to sneak up on them. If the Wolf sees someone moving, then they can call them out of the game. Imagine this translated into the world of SMB, where players have to make gentle steps on the balance board and then stop perfectly still when the Wolf turns around, and that’s Step & Roll’s ‘Red Light/Green Light’.
It Ain’t Broke, But...
Our second mini-game demo, Market Race, was basically a simplified Mario Kart, only with rocket launcher power-ups instead of red shells. Hopping on the balance board dispenses a power-up, which can be picked up from icons around the race track. There’s also plenty of speed boasts and high-speed antics, so it looks like enough to keep gamers happy for more than a few minutes.
Finally, a platform tilting mini-game rounded off our first look, with control of the Monkey Ball this time being swapped for a series of vertically descending, horizontal platforms. The aim was to get AiAi and his Monkey Ball to descend these platforms towards a target at the bottom while picking up as many bananas as possible along the way. Sending AiAi off one or the other side of a platform by tilting it effectively altered his route through the level, thereby affecting how many bananas he could possibly pick-up along the way.
From what we’ve seen of Super Monkey Ball: Step & Roll so far, SEGA doesn’t appear to be straying far from the game’s classic formula in this, the series’ tenth iteration. We’re sure that there will be a wide range of new mini-games in the final version and maybe a couple of new ideas in the main campaign, but the biggest focus here is on balance board implementation. A couple of nifty gameplay tweaks should ease the transition into balance board play for Step & Roll, although we do question exactly how innovative this latest instalment will be. Put another way, the phrase ‘Milking a cow dry’ does come to mind.
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