Now this is a launch title.
The Nintendo Gamecube was released my freshman year of college. While I was lucky enough to secure a
cabal group of lifelong friends early in my first semester, I unfortunately was not able to convince any of my minions buddies to ferry me along to the Gamecube midnight launch. I suppose my greatest enemy was the premiere of the new Justice League animated series, and, ya know, some people are bigger comic book nerds than videogame nerds. Losers. Regardless, I was forced to purchase a Gamecube later in the week (the indignity!), and the only venue with ‘cubes available to gleam was Electronics Boutique. Because EB Games was frequently managed by charlatans and malcontents, the only way to secure a Gamecube was through a “bundle”, which would require the purchase of the base system, one additional controller, and three games. Ha! I eat three games for breakfast! Sign me up!
Now, I mention this story because, truth be told, I likely would not have purchased those three “extra” games if not for the (mandatory) bundle. I knew Smash Bros. was dropping within a few weeks, and, while I didn’t yet know just how amazing Melee would be, I knew I needed some of that hot Pikachu on Mario action. Couple that thinking with being a poor college kid (is that redundant?), and, for once in my life, I was very likely to ignore 90% of the new releases for the year. After all, the N64 was on its way out, and I could pick up like half of that library for approximately five bucks. $150 worth of games I’d never play? That’s like seventeen servings of buffalo wings I’ll never be able to afford. The horror!
Regardless, I wound up going for the EB “deal”, and I came home with Luigi’s Mansion, Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader, and Super Monkey Ball. Rogue Leader I barely played, but a number of my cronies enjoyed it, so it wasn’t a total loss. Luigi’s Mansion I played to completion a few times the following summer, but it was certainly no Mario 64 or Super Mario World. And the final title of the trio was Super Monkey Ball, a game I barely chose over the latest Madden and Tony Hawk games. I didn’t really like Madden or Tony Hawk, but at least they were known quantities. This Super Monkey Ball was… a monkey in a ball? The hell? Man, why did I stop my Nintendo Power subscription? I have no idea what I’m looking at here.
And Super Monkey Ball turned out to be the best of the lot. Go monkeys. Go.
On the surface, Super Monkey Ball is just Labyrinth, that one stupid game that your uncle got you every Christmas where you try to manipulate a wooden maze until a marble falls into the right hole. Twenty minutes later, you’ve won, and you move on to more complex games, like cone with a ball on a string or Candy Land. Super Monkey Ball attempts to relieve the inherent boredom in the system with two key features. One, there are almost a hundred “mazes”, so there is a lot to master here; and two, there are monkeys in balls. Not sure which genius came up with this concept, but there are tiny monkeys trapped in transparent “vending machine” balls, and, well, that goes a long way to humanizing an otherwise uninteresting concept. Monkeyizing? Whatever. What’s important is that guiding Aiai to collect banana after banana is possibly the most important task you will ever be coerced into completing, and every time that monkey falls into the endless void that is outside the current stage… well… Let’s just say that nobody likes a pile of dead monkeys. That should be incentive enough.
But if Super Monkey Ball was just monkey balancing, I wouldn’t be talking about it right now. Well, I guess I’d be talking about it, as per ROB mandate, but I’d probably be engineering some amazing fiction about monkeys being sealed in balls and forced to collect bananas for an uncaring, but all seeing, God of Monkey Sadism. Huh. Maybe we’ll save that for the sequels. No, what’s important about Super Monkey Ball isn’t the monkeys or their mazes, what’s important are the minigames that account for about 7,000 hours of my Super Monkey Ball playtime.
Let’s do a quick rundown. We’ve got:
- Monkey Billiards: It’s pool, but you’re generally seeing the game from the perspective of the cue ball. If you’re good at geometry, you’re probably going to be good at this. Cyclops is amazing at this one.
- Monkey Golf: Like Monkey Billiards, it’s golf (or more like mini golf) from the perspective of the ball. Somehow the monkeys have putters inside of their plastic balls, and the physics of that are dubious at best. Nonetheless, it’s golf, the end.
- Monkey Bowling: This time, the monkeys must defeat a nefarious dragon and save the princess before the king of all bananas returns to his kingdom. Nah, I’m just messing with you. It’s bowling.
- Monkey Race: It’s like Mario Kart, if Mario Kart was extremely limited, and you could occasionally transform your opponents into useless cubes. Considering we were still a ways off from the amazing Mario Kart Double Dash, Monkey Race could potentially hold its audience’s attention for a few courses.
- Monkey Fight: Now we’re talking. Monkeys in balls inexplicably now have giant boxing gloves, and the idea is to “box” your fellow monkeys out of the arena, and be the last monkey rolling. I’m sure there’s some level of strategy or cunning to this game, but, more often than not, it becomes about as frantic as a game of Hungry Hungry Hippos. Sorry, new Gamecube controllers.
- Monkey Target: And the most… misplayed Super Monkey Ball game. Your job is to build up speed, launch your monkey into the air, and then deftly navigate that flying monkey onto differently valued platforms scattered across the ocean. This is impossible, so you spend most of the time discussing with your friends how exactly it would be the worst death ever to drown within a slowly leaking plastic ball as it sinks to the bottom of the sea. Also, this game is player-alternating, so feel free to get some drinks while the active player murders a monkey.
Individually, any of these “minigames” might occupy a night or two, and then be quickly forgotten; but when they all combine, they become a Voltron of unending fun. I don’t know if you know this, but people inclined to watch the many deaths of monkeys are also likely to have short attention spans, so “let’s try something else” without having to pop out a disc is a godsend. As a result, I can safely say that Super Monkey Ball was probably the most played console launch game with my circle of friends, and even rivaled Super Smash Bros Melee for that coveted “always in the Gamecube” position. It didn’t win, but it came close.
And I can’t help but feel like somebody noticed. After all, it seems Nintendo was just a generation away from making a system with a launch title that involved golf, bowling, and other “minigames” that somehow gelled together to build a better launch title. There may have even been a few boxing gloves involved.
Hm. Do people want a new Mario game with every system, or something that lets you freak out and break your fresh controllers with friends? Certainly something to consider when you look at those launch lineups.
Or maybe people just want to murder our monkey friends. I’ve never been good at reading the room.
FGC #226 Super Monkey Ball
- System: Nintendo Gamecube and arcade. Oh, how I’d love to see one of those magical monkey machines.
- Number of players: Four. Duh.
- Number of dead monkeys at the bottom of Monkey Target Lake: Innumerable.
- So, did you beat it? Kinda! I mean, I know I beat the beginner and intermediate courses…
- Favorite Minigame: I have no idea why we played Monkey Bowling so much. It’s just… bowling. Like… who cares? Yet I’m pretty sure I saw that minigame every day for a year.
- Favorite Monkey: Baby is a time traveling child of the hero from the future. How is that such a persistent trope?
- Did you know? I want to say this is the first Sega game on a Nintendo console, but there was also Sega’s Chu Chu Rocket on Gameboy Advance first. Do portables count?
- Would I play again: Replaying Super Monkey Ball was surprisingly nostalgic. I also no longer have patience for vending machine monkeys, so, ya know, probably not.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… T&C Surf Designs for NES! I foresee a surfing cat in your future! Please look forward to it!