Being a Sega fan delivers a mixed bag of emotions to this writer on a regular basis. Walking through my local Sega-owned arcade, seeing Jambo Safari
nestled beside Outrun 2 SP
, backed by the trinity of Sega's skateboarding games fills me with glee and misplaced pride; I also very much feel at home surrounded the company's coin-ops.
I reference Jambo Safari
because the game exemplifies Sega and what it means to both fans and the casual observer. It was released during something of a golden run for Sega's arcade division, it was released alongside some true gems, all of which were powered by the sublime Naomi (New Arcade Operation Machine Idea) board. Within months of Jambo
's release, local arcades picked up, Crazy Taxi
followed and was a smash hit, dragging the hardcore away from their dusty, smoke-stained King of Fighters 98
and Street Fighter Alpha 3
endlessness, to something they could to sit down in and play with a big smile to replace the usual scowl of concentration and competition.
It was around this time that, if you were very lucky, one arcade machine turned up in very select locations, and took you aback. It took you aback because, awkwardly jammed in the middle of what was a very standard Naomi DX cabinet, was a huge banana as a controller.
The game was Monkey Ball
, the gloriously camp creation of Amusement Vision's lead developer Toshihiro Nagoshi, a game he developed with the intention of making a piece of entertainment software it was impossible to play when drunk, openly polishing off as he was, a good bottle of Scotch a day, when it was conceived.
I have spoken to Nagoshi about Monkey Ball
at various E3s, and during one chat some years ago, he was openly bitter that arcade operators didn't pick up on Monkey Ball
, but he was smug at the global phenomena that was its console outing, the GameCube launch title Super Monkey Ball
I first saw Super Monkey Ball
when I cracked open my Japanese GameCube and sifted through the three titles that I'd picked up (the only ones available at launch). I had some experience of the arcade and was eager to brush aside Wave Race
and Luigi's Mansion
, and see what the Sega game in the meagre pile offered.
Two years later and I'd played SMB
every day. It had become a selective obsession, my attention switching between Monkey Target 500-point landing perfection and the main game which was, after 24 months, beaten. I loved the game, its characters and what it represented to me as a fan and to casual and dedicated gamers alike: something fascinating, intuitive and deep.
Super Monkey Ball
on the Wii has been my most anticipated game since well before it launched. Indeed, on the day the then Revolution's controller was detailed, I took a call from Rupert, my best friend and fellow Monkey addict. "Dude, dude! Have you seen it? Can you imagine, Monkey Ball
? I mean, this is the best news of all time!" That about sums up what this title means to the Monkey Ball
The first console versions of Monkey Ball
required the player to imagine the analogue stick was a table top. The most important thing about Monkey Ball's
main game is that you have to understand: you do not control the monkeys - you control the environment. You tilt it like an old-world ballbearing maze game, the top of the stick representing the centre of a flat table surface. It is impossible to play the game in any meaningful way until this is understood. So what more perfect a controller could there be than that deployed with the Wii? The answer is...none. But can the series climb back from the dumbed-down misfire that was SMB2
? The answer is yes.
You can start smiling now.