Considering Super Monkey Ball was, really, a bit of a gimmick when it first appeared on the GameCube nearly eight years ago, Sega's done a remarkable job of keeping the series alive. There have been a couple of lowlights along the way - Super Monkey Ball Adventure's ham-fisted crack at free-rolling adventure coming to mind - but when the monkeys have stayed within their balls and rolled around tilting platforms, it's generally been a reliably fun franchise.
In case you've no idea why monkeys are being trapped in balls and rolled around tabletops, it's okay. You've nothing to be horrified about. Toshihiro Nagoshi simply thought it would be a good idea to recreate Marble Madness by putting pretend monkeys in pretend balls and having them roll around boards within a time limit, collecting bananas.
A generous 100 stages make up Super Monkey Ball: Step & Roll, split into ten worlds, all of which can be attacked using the Balance Board. Monkey Ball isn't the first game to attempt to fuse marbles and the Balance Board (not real life marbles, obviously - the NHS would have be in trouble otherwise). Marbles! Balance Challenge made a decent fist of that early last year. But Monkey Ball is certainly the sparkier version, especially when you throw in the mini-games.
Immediately you'll find that controlling the game using the Balance Board requires a great deal of patience thanks to its touchy sensitivity. Even in the first world, where the initial batch of stages are straightforward enough, you'll find yourself helplessly rolling off into oblivion after leaning fractionally too much to one side. Forward momentum snowballs rapidly too, and for those trying out the Monkey Ball series for the first time, sustained frustration could be just around the corner.
The Balance Board just doesn't offer the precision needed to get round some of the murderous courses found even a little way into the game. The difficulty spike is close to vertical, so much so that it feels as though the game isn't giving you time to get used to controlling AiAi the monkey with your feet. The danger could have been that the Balance Board turned each monkey ball into a shopping trolley with rusty wheels, but instead it seems to have gone the other way. It's more like piloting a McLaren round your back garden, it being too eager to arrow into turns and putting the fence out.
As well as that, there's also the stomach churning spectacle of seeing the camera lurch about after your Monkey Ball, which has the effect of making your movements on the board feel more exaggerated. Best not play this after meal times then.
None of this is to say it's a bad game, because it's not. It needs pointing out that while uncomplicated, getting used to being especially nimble on your feet does take getting used to. Thankfully for those with a short fuse, you can use the Wii Remote, tilting it this way and that to roll around. A clever touch is that of the obstacles added to each course - bumpers and the like which must be navigated. It levels things up a bit between Board and Remote users.
The Remote can also be used as a helping hand to another player in Co-op mode, where you smash obstacles out of the way of your partner's rolling ball with a flick of the wrist.
Another concession to the tricky controls is the way you collect bananas. Some courses require you to collect every last one to progress, but you're bound to roll off the course so you're able to head back and aim for the bananas you've not yet collected - all the others are banked.