At the launch of the GBA, many people were disappointed to find out that Nintendo's
handheld system still lacked any 3-D capabillites, and that much of the titles would
still be in 2-D. But over time, some very ambitious developers have pushed the GBA
farther than anyone could imagine, and given gamers first-person shooters and 3-D
racing games. While not all of them have been perfect, it's pretty amazing to see
this done on a system that wasn't even supposed to DO 3-D. But thanks to some great
programming, we can finally see a little more resemblance of console games on our handhelds.
Super Monkey Ball Jr. may be one of the most ambitious 3-D GBA games yet, as it not
only has a capable 3-D engine, but really does look and feel a lot like the Gamecube
Monkey Ball games. Sure, the framrate isn't as high, and the D-Pad is less precise
in guiding your monkey through each stage, but it's pretty amazing to see the same
game you play at home on a handheld.
Monkey Ball Jr. is basically a condensed version of the first Monkey Ball that
appeared on the Gamecube. You're given the same four characters of the game, a good
number of stages from the game (you won't see all 100 in here), and even some of the mini-games
such as bowling, golf and monkey fight. Although it seems like you're getting less than
you would on the console, there are some differences that have made the game more challenging,
and at some points, makes you feel like you're playing the game again for the first time.
The first thing you'll notice (other than the fact that the game is in 3-D) is that
the game controls a little differently. Mostly it's due to the fact that you have to use
a D-pad rather than an analog stick. The physics are fine, and actually on-par with the
Gamecube version, but when it comes to making precise movements, it's tough to
do it with a D-pad. One interesting thing the developers did, though is create two different
speeds in which the ball travels by pressing A or B. Pressing one will tilt the board
steeper, which results in more speed. The other button will tilt the board just a little
to keep your speed down. It's a nice inclusion, and does help out a little more.
If you've played the first Monkey Ball on the Gamecube, you'll probably find many familiar stages
in this game. Some have translated pretty well, and others may have adjustments made
to them, like shorter length or some missing elements that probably couldn't be pulled
off on the engine. Also, the time for each stage is not very constant as the console
version. Before, you had stages that gave you 30 or 60 seconds to complete. Here,
it can go anywhere from 20-60 seconds.
The visuals of the game may seem rather simple, but it's actually pretty cool to
see on the GBA. Not only that, it's the one thing that helps keep the game the same as it
was on the console. I can't really imagine a game like this from a top-down perspective,
so it's nice to see the developers take the extra step and actually make a capable 3-D
engine for the game. And the 3-D is actually pretty sharp, too, with hardly any
texture warping or weird polygonal abnormalities seen in other 3-D GBA games. The framerate
is fairly solid and playable, but not nearly as smooth as the console version. At least
the game isn't choppy. I was pretty amazed to see how smooth this game actually was, I
was expecting a little choppiness when there was a lot to be displayed, but there was never
any "slide-show" moments throughout the game. The audio is pretty good, with much of the music, voices and sound effects from the Gamecube version
to be found here.
It's hard to find games that can make a decent transition from a console to a handheld,
because the limitations of the hardware hold a lot of the things that mad the console
versions great back. But Super Monkey Ball Jr., despite some it's limitations, really manages
to capture the look and feel of the console version, and still remain playable and
fun. For those who were addicted to the console version of Monkey Ball, or is just looking for
a solid GBA game should really pick this one up.