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Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz hands-on

How well does the Wii's tilt-sensitive controller handle the hardcore ball-rolling series?

Anyone can play the ten 'Beginner' levels but unless you have skills of a Jedi the Expert levels would punish you until you cry. Wii is just around the corner and with its tilt-sensitive controller it seems perfect for a Monkey Ball sequel.

The first time we saw the Wii Remote we thought of Monkey Ball. Surely, with the controller acting as the platform, tilting it to roll your little monkey would be the dream set-up for any Monkey Ball fan. Sure enough, Sega matched our thoughts and this is exactly how Banana Blitz controls.

You hold the Wii Remote in whatever hand is comfortable - no need for the Nunchuk expansion. Then, with the top of the Remote facing the TV, you simply tilt it to roll your ball. You'd imagine this would feel immediately intuitive but it's actually a lot tougher to handle that you expect.

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Put simply, our ninja Monkey Ball skills went to pot, and we know it's nothing to do with age or alcohol abuse because we played the GameCube original before we headed to Nintendo - just for a warm up.

The control system isn't at fault either - the response to your movements is fast and accurate. It's more just a case of case of getting used to the new system - your left thumb may be extensively trained in the art of supreme platform tilting but your whole hand isn't.You WILL be rubbish at it for at least an hour - maybe longer - but you'll get better.

One thing, other than the controller itself, that will throw out your judgement at first is the fact that the maximum tilt gradient has been softened. We'd say 100 percent tilt in Banana Blitz equates to around 70 percent tilt in the GC games, so your control over the ball is nowhere near as harsh or punchy.

Accelerating is considerable slower, which we assume Sega intended, to make the game easier for beginners. But the lighter tilt gradient also means that when the ball does eventually pick up speed, slowing it down takes a lot longer.

That's not the only new gameplay mechanic for you to master. Most notable is the monkey's newfound ability to jump. For the first time in Monkey Ball you can make your primate friend take a small hop by pressing the A button, and the new levels have been built to accommodate for this new ability.

At first, small steps and wooden gates are relatively harmless obstacles that get you used to jumping. Later, you'll have to make leaps of faith to shifting platforms or jump over spinning poles that threaten to shove you off level.

The other new mechanic is the differing abilities of the six monkeys (yes, SIX - two new monkeys, Doctor and Yan Yan, will debut on Wii). Each monkey's acceleration and top-speed differs slightly, contributing to the speed at which you can finish a level. Significantly, some monkeys have unique abilities that offer advantages during certain levels.

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Gon can use his hefty weight to smash through certain barriers, and can also break wooden spring poles (you know - the ones that bounce you violently away when you touch them). Baby rolls around in the smallest ball you'll find gaps or holes that only he can fit through. This offers you differing routes through some of the platforms, depending on what monkey you're using.

It's not just the gameplay in the main mode that's been tweaked, the whole game has been given a bit of a facelift. Instead of rolling around on plain, chequered platforms, all levels have been filled with environmental detail not just in the backgrounds, but on the platforms themselves.

Trees, fences, rocks and various other details decorate the course, again without interfering with the principles of the gameplay (although some wooden fences occasionally save you from a fatal fall). Now, with a mix of psychedelic, multicoloured levels, and darker more atmospheric environments, Super Monkey Ball looks fantastic.

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