Super Monkey Ball is a labyrinth-esque puzzle game developed for the iPhone by Sega. It's a continuation of Sega's franchise where the player guides a monkey encased in a plastic ball across a series of simple levels into a large glowing hoop, at which point your chosen simian spins off into the atmosphere with a delighted shriek.
The gimmick of Super Monkey Ball is that it is controlled with the iPhone's accelerometer — tilt the controller forward will send your monkey ball forward and so on — how far you tilt the device corresponds to the creature's speed. You must guide one of four available monkeys through simple obstacle courses bordered by low walls and can bounce over if they're travelling fast enough. All up, there are 110 levels spread across five worlds.
Sega has put the iPhone's power to good advantage when it developed this game. Super Monkey Ball looks substantially better than both its Gamecube and Nintendo DS ancestors. It blends the cartoonish artistic style prevalent across the series with clean, sharply defined shapes. With so many levels, you won't get bored of the visual presentation, despite these levels being divided over only five worlds.
The audio styling of the game, however, is cause for concern. The game's soundtrack and vocal directions are superb, with a bouncy soundtrack complementing the overall style of the game nicely, but the same cannot be said of the monkey character's inane squeaks and cries. Every time your monkey bumps the edge of a map, completes a level, or falls out of bounds, it emits a cry that grates on your ears. It's possible to block this out by pressing your hand into the inconveniently placed speaker, but this blocks out the soundtrack as well.
Gameplay and handling
So you have a game that looks great, has a beautiful soundtrack, an interesting new take on an established game concept and the iPhone's hardware. Where could you go wrong?
The accelerometer controls on the iPhone are made for games like this — just not this sensitive. Super Monkey Ball's controls are incredibly so, with no available option to adjust it. A minor tilt forward of the iPhone sends your character shooting forward at an unseemly rate, often spiralling out of control and over the edge of the level, losing the lives the player so painstakingly gained through collecting bananas (of course) scattered throughout the levels.
Unfortunately, this is a game breaker. The game considers the iPhone "flat" when it's held at about a 45-degree angle, so any slight movement off this line presents the problem previously cited. It would have been good if Sega made flat actually level, or allowed players the ability to adjust this and control sensitivity; but as it is, a simple bump from a passer-by can cause an innocent monkey to fall into the ocean.
Despite its other failings, Super Monkey Ball is perhaps the most stable application for the iPhone we've used yet — and that includes official Apple programs. At the time of writing, the game did not crash, stutter or freeze. Even with its superb graphical renderings, the game loads and plays much faster than we expected.
Super Monkey Ball is available for iPhone and iPod Touch for AU$12.99 from Apple's App Store through iTunes.