Previews

Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz

We peel back the layers of Sega's simian sensation on Nintendo's Wii

Monkeys! Oh, how we love monkeys. We've long since maintained that you can't go wrong with monkeys in videogames and thankfully Sega seems to agree. Of course, we say the same thing about zombies and pirates, but it's always those bloody monkeys who seem to steal the limelight. Anyway, since its GameCube debut, Super Monkey Ball's been a firm favourite with gamers, so it's no surprise that Sega's set to roll out Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz on Nintendo's Wii.

Given the series' tilt-and-tumble mechanics, it would seem obvious that the Wii's motion sensor controller is the perfect fit for a new iteration and - despite initial fears that we might have another Super Monkey Ball DS-style travesty on our hands - it turns out that Banana Blitz is practically the game Wii was designed for.

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You can probably guess how the controller works in conjunction with the single-player game already but, just in case, we'll run through it anyway. Simply, it's a case of holding the remote in your hand of choice and tilting it forward, back, left or right to shift the game level in that direction - with your monkey friend following the lay of the course as you dictate it.

To be honest, it all feels a bit alien at first - and somewhat more of a faff than simply shifting an analogue stick in microscopic increments (incidentally, we've got no idea if Sega's planning on adding a second control option supporting the nunchuck controller for traditionalists). Our initial bafflement largely lay with the remote's hyper-sensitivity, something we just weren't expecting when we got our hands on the game. Guaranteed, the first thing you'll do is over-compensate your movements, invariably sending your monkey spiralling off into the ether.

Thing is, as with most Wii games we played, it doesn't take long to adjust to the ways of the remote and, in a matter of minutes, we were revelling in the amazing levels of precision on offer. One thing we will note however is the relative discomfort we felt when playing. Grab a TV remote or something, point it forward, then try twisting it up and down, left and right - it's not a particularly natural activity, and frankly it took a while for our wrists to loosen up.

Still, having adjusted to the remote's surprising precision, we could start to focus on the game itself. Sadly, we didn't have chance to test out any of the myriad Party Games in the E3 demo (although we've heard reliable testaments to the fact they're great), but the single-player game offered up a slew of traditional - and expertly designed - obstacle course affairs. The big twist this time around though is that Sega has introduced a jump feature into the mix - altering the basic gameplay dynamics and adding a surprising amount of depth.

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By either hitting the remote's main button or flicking the remote upward, your monkey can now leap into the air, meaning Super Monkey Balls' team can include more vertical design elements in each level. During our play time, we ran a course featuring a long, winding path obstructed by spinning poles which required carefully-timed jumps to clear and one hellish level consisting of haphazard blocks which needed scaling to reach our goal in the centre. It's pretty amazing how much the inclusion of jump beefs up Super Monkey Ball's already solid mechanics - although we can imagine it might be frustrating for those of a more ham-fisted nature.

All in all, as a single-player game at least, Banana Blitz is already looking like a superb title - in it's own right and in terms of its superb use of the Wii remote's unique functionality. With greater - and far more intuitive - control over your pesky monkey cohorts, alongside a much meatier mix of challenges, we're already confident that this Wii iteration of Super Monkey Ball will do the series proud. Of course, if those ever-popular Party Games are really as good as we've been hearing too, this could well be one of the must-haves come the console's launch.

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