Review: Super Monkey Ball 3D (Nintendo 3DS)

Super Monkey Ball 3D
Developer: Sega
Publisher: Sega
Genre: Puzzle
Release Date: 03/27/2011

Back in 2003, I picked up a Nintendo Game Cube on launch day along with four titles: Luigi’s Mansion, All-Star Baseball 2002, Batman: Vengeance and Super Monkey Ball. Out of the four, Super Monkey Ball became my favorite. The game was great, but it appears Sega let the success of the title go to their heads. In less than a decade, the game had spawned eleven sequels – none of which came close to capturing the magic or the quality of the original. They were all lacking in some way.

However, with the announcement that there would be a Super Monkey Ball game as a 3DS launch title, I knew this would be one of my first day purchases in hopes that history would repeat itself. Thankfully for my wallet, Sega was kind enough to provide a review copy of the game before the official street date so that I could get a review up of the game in time for you, our readers, to see if Super Monkey Ball 3D is worth your $39.99 or not. So was Sega able to finally recreate the formula that made the original SMB so awesome, or is this just another in a long line of subpar sequels?

Let’s Review

1. Modes

Unfortunately, Super Monkey Ball 3D doesn’t have a lot of modes to speak of. In fact, this 3DS cart has less play modes than the original game for the Game Cube! You have Challenge Mode, where you attempt to clear various worlds. Each world has ten stages and when you’ve beaten a world, you may open up one of three new onesto try out. This is pretty much the standard mode for the SMB series and nothing has really changed here. It’s by far the best mode in the game.

The other two modes are longtime mini games for the franchise. You have Monkey Race and Monkey Fight. Monkey Race is a bit different in that your monkey is driving a go kart now instead of its ball. This makes it the first 3DS Kart racer, but it’s not very good. Monkey Fight is now a four player brawl instead of being able to select your number of opponents. There will always four characters which means that it is usually you and three CPU characters. Instead of the fighting being all about knocking your opponent off platforms, it’s now more Hungry Hungry Hippos. Your goal is now to collect as many bananas as you can . This is also a bit dull and although I’m glad they changed it up from the original version of this mini-game, both Monkey Fight and Monkey Race are actually weaker than previous versions.

Mostly, I’m disappointed that the game skimped on the modes of play compared to previous games. Considering this is a forty dollar title and there’s less content here than in previous games, you’ll find that you can finish the game off in a single afternoon. That’s not really $39.99 in value, now is it?

Modes Rating: Bad

2. Graphics

Super Monkey Ball 3DM is a pretty game. It looks just as good as it did in previous iterations on the Wii, PS2, Xbox or GCN. The graphics have a lot of detail and everything is lush and colorful. I also like that even if your monkey is moving at high speeds, everything is crisp looking and there’s no sign of slowdown anywhere. The cast and crew of Monkey Ball are as adorable as ever and it’s one of those games that’s as fun to watch as it is to play.

Sure the visuals might not have changed much in the past decade (aside from the bananas missing the original Dole trademark on them), but the game manages to be as visually appealing on the 3DS as it was when the series first started.

Graphics Rating: Good

3. Sound

One area where the Super Monkey Ball series has yet to disappoint me with its auditory quality. The scoring for the games has always been nicely done and SMB3D is no exception. The music is very catchy and makes for wonderful background noise. However on the harder levels, you’ll probably want to turn the music off if you are easily distracting as the tempo and pace of some of these tracks might affect you.

Sound effects are a lot of fun too. It’s all very cartoony and whether it’s a monkey hitting a bumper or a crate of bananas exploding, every sound managed to bring a smile to my voice. The monkey voices were, and still are, my favorites. I wouldn’t call it voice acting by any stretch of the imagination, but the sounds each monkey makes is adorable and you can’t help but feel a twinge of guilt when you send a monkey plummeting to its inevitable demise on a challenge level. Poor little monkey.

Sound Rating: Good

4. Control and Gameplay

So I’ll be brief on the mini-games. The controls here are pretty horrible. Monkey Fight is now on a 2D platform instead of a 3D field. The controls have gone from “monkey in a ball with a boxing glove” to a third rate Super Smash Bros that just feels awkward. Monkey Race is pretty unresponsive and will elicit profanity from most who play it. The overall control schemes for both are sluggish and they are simply awful compared to the original version of these mini games. However, since these will barely be touched by anyone, it’s best to move on to the core game where you will spend most of your time. And by most of your time I mean, “about two hours.”

For Challenge Mode, you have two distinct control types that you can play with. You can either play with the circle pad or with the 3DS’ tilt sensor. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. The circle pad is pretty responsive and it’s much easier to control your monkey on tight turns with this. However, it also feels much harder to gain momentum or to slow down with this control scheme. Using the tilt controls is a lot more fun since you’re getting “into” the game, but it’s also harder to control your monkey and because you are tilting the screen, it can be hard to see what is coming next, especially when you’re using the 3D effects. Both control schemes have issues and it would have been nice if the tilt controls were a little tighter. You’ll definitely die more often using the title controls over the circle pad.

So the controls for Challenge Mode are enjoyable but both versions still have issues. Meanwhile the controls for both mini games pretty much suck. As long as you stick to the main mode, you should be fine.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Decent

5. Replayability

While each of the worlds in Super Monkey Ball 3D has ten levels each, you’ll whiz through each of those worlds in a matter of minutes. There’s no real reason to replay each world unless you want to beat your high score or you missed one of the sixteen collectables (think trophies/achievements) the first time around. As neither Monkey Race nor Monkey Fight are all that fun, you probably won’t play those ever again unless you use the download play option with your friends that also have a 3DS. Unfortunately there probably won’t be that many that have the system at launch and neither Monkey Race or Monkey Fight are going to make people want to go out and buy the full cart.

Unlike some of the earlier versions of SMB, where several of the mini games were just as fun as the main mode, SMB3D is a bit lackluster and once you’ve played through everything once, there’s no real reason to come back to it.

Replayability Rating: Poor

6. Balance

Challenge Mode offers a nice balance of challenge and familiarity. For example, the first world is so easy, you’d have to have no reflexes at all not to perfect all ten levels. The next world, which has an Arabian theme is a little bit hard and you’ll have to start making more precise turns and think about what you are doing. So on and so forth. So there’s a nice amount of strategy and hand to eye coordination involved, making the game a lot of fun for the brief amount of time it takes you to whip through it.

Now some levels are in fact repeats from older versions of the game, but the ones that are new are a lot of fun and provide a nice amount of challenge. At no point will you ever get so frustrated that you throw down your DS while cursing. The game allows you unlimited continues until you finish a world, but continuing does set your score back to 0, which is a nicer punishment than having to go all the way back to the first stage in the world. However, it does make the game a lot easier and it also drastically cuts the length of time you’ll be playing this game.

Overall Super Monkey Ball 3D is a well balanced game and even with the occasional control issue, you’ll find the puzzles engaged and worth your time.

Balance Rating: Good

7. Originality

With Super Monkey Ball 3D being the twelfth game in the franchise in just under ten years, it’s not hard to see that this gaming is squeeze the last few droplets of blood from the SMB stone. There are a few changes, like racing being a kart racer instead of in the balls or that monkey fight is more a banana scramble, but these are minor changes. Challenge Mode is the same as it ever was. In fact, quite a few of these levels look and/or play like some straight out of previous games. I don’t know if they got lazy and just slapped old maps in, or they have just exhausted the series to the point where they don’t realize they are repeating levels, but either way, it was a bit disheartening.

I can’t even really give the 3D aspects of the game as pass for originality here as EVERY game on this system will have that effect. With a lack of any real innovation and a very sparse amount of content, Super Monkey Ball 3D often felt like a cheap cash grab or a quick attempt to put SOMETHING out as a launch title.

Originality Rating: Dreadful

8. Addictiveness

Although Monkey Fight and Monkey Race left me pretty cold and with absolute no desire to ever play them again, I did enjoy my time with Challenge Mode. It was fun to try the SMB series in 3D, along with both control schemes. However, I finished the game pretty quickly and I realized that I had no desire to replay any of the worlds I had beaten. I was struck by the lack of any real content on the cart, especially with the price tag that comes with 3DS games. Had I actually paid money for this I’d probably have been pissed off by how shallow the game was, especially compared to previous entries in the series. Instead I was just disappointed.

I can’t see myself ever picking up Super Monkey Ball 3D again. Challenge Mode could have used some more levels and the entire package could have certainly fit in a few more mini games. Instead the end result was a game that is too short to really be enjoyable as a long term purchase.

Addictiveness Rating: Mediocre

9. Appeal Factor

Super Monkey Ball 3D was both a safe and a smart bet for Sega to release as a 3DS launch title. The series is well known and the actual puzzle courses in challenge mode were a good fit for the 3D visuals of the system. However people are either going to love or hate the controls and you won’t know what side you fall on until you try them out. Unfortunately for most people, that means BUYING the game. Couple that with the fact you have a very shallow title with the forty dollar price tag and even longtime Super Monkey Ball fans like myself will end up waiting for this game to go on sale or for a cheaper used copy to show up at their local video game store.

One also has to realize that if you’re looking for a puzzle game, you also have the option for Bust-A-Move Universe which is not only a better game, but it also provides more content AND it’s ten bucks cheaper. Because of all this, I don’t see a lot of people being happy with their purchase of SMB3D and many others not bothering to pick up the game at all once they read that the game provides arguably the least amount of content out of all the 3DS launch titles.

Appeal Factor: Mediocre

10. Miscellaneous

Like all 3DS games, we’re using the miscellaneous section to discuss the actual 3D graphics of the game so they have their own little spotlight section. Unfortunately out of all the launch titles I’ve played, Super Monkey Ball 3D isn’t very good at using the 3D effects.

In cut scenes (such as before you start a world), things look pretty good. However once you load up a level and it spins around to show you the map, you’ll start to notice the 3D effects tears past a certain game speed. The effects with split apart so you’ll be see blurry shadow images and I can definitely see people prone to motion sickness being affected by the 3D effects trying to catch up with the quick turns and circular motions you’ll make at time. Too often I had to turn the 3D effects completely off on this game because the blurring images would make it appear a bumper was where it was not or that there was something to keep me plunging to my death when in fact there wasn’t. The game performs a LOT better when in 2D and that’s unfortunate because the whole point of the 3DS is well, quality 3D gaming. Instead, the 3D effect doesn’t appear to have been playtested very well because you will regularly see blurring, tearing and even double images as you speed up. This is more frequent when using the tilt controls because your eyes and the screen have to constantly adjust.

I can’t really say anything positive about the 3D effects in Super Monkey Ball 3D because of how hard it is for the game to maintain them. More often than not it distorts distances and images rather than improves them. Again, you’re better off keeping 3D turned off with this game, especially when using tilt controls.

Miscellaneous Rating: Bad

The Scores
Modes: Bad
Graphics: Good
Sound: Good
Control and Gameplay: Decent
Replayability: Poor
Balance: Good
Originality: Dreadful
Addictiveness: Mediocre
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
Miscellaneous: Bad

Short Attention Span Summary
Super Monkey Ball 3D continues the trend of the franchise’s downward spiral. The game looks and sounds great, and Challenge Mode is a lot of fun. Meanwhile Monkey Fight and Monkey Race are the only two mini games included, and both are pretty awful. The game reuses some puzzles from previous games and the amount of content is so minute that nearly all gamers will complete this game in under three hours. Worst of all is that the 3D effects in the game are pretty bad, with images becoming blurring, tearing or the 3D effect break into two images when you are moving quite fast or taking sharp turns. It’s more noticeable using the tilt controls than when you are using the circle pad, so keep that in mind. Overall, you’re getting a game that really can’t justify its $39.99 price tag and that really could have used some more fine tuning with the 3D effects. The game plays better and is actually a lot more fun with 3D turned off, but you could purchase two or three older SMB titles for the cost of this new and receive far more content instead.



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3 responses to “Review: Super Monkey Ball 3D (Nintendo 3DS)”

  1. Phil Avatar

    Not surprised at all; Sega is so half-assed with their franchises; it is the exception rather than the rule when something from them even turns out decent anymore. Sounds as if SMB 3DS is not even worth half of the asking price.

    The days of dependable first-party quality from the Genesis and Saturn eras are long gone, never to return.

    I’ll comment that I felt that SMB 2 (Gamecube) was at least on par with the original, but it has been all downhill from there.

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