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Monday November 20, 2006 5:25 pm

Wii: Super Monkey Ball Sucks, Excite Truck Is Boring

Wii ExciteTruckI suppose that with 50 mini games packed into Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz, there were bound to be some good ones and some bad ones. So riddle me this ... how is it that Monkey Target, by far the most fun mini game in the previous titles, is so abysmally bad now? One frickin level, this wierd “Option Ball” thing, and what feels like a wind factor without any sort of on-screen wind indicator? How do you manage to take a great game and make it so terrible? By getting rid of the power-ups and other stuff that made the game so interesting.

Luckily, there are some bright spots. Monkey Wars is fun, even if my wife hated it. Two handed independent controls are just too much for her to get her head around. But by far, the most entertaining game was Monkey Darts. That’s right ... darts. You don’t have to, but we held the Wiimote like an actual dart, and you basically make a quick stabbing motion at the screen to fling the dart. The IR receiver in the Wiimote can sense depth from the screen (sensor bar, really) and you can actually see your dart hovering there in 3D space before you throw it. You can play Countdown, 301, or 501, and it’s an absolute blast. All you really need to complete the atmosphere is a chain-smoking retiree in the corner, 80’s hair rock, some beer, and a steak that’s nothing more than charred gristle. Or maybe that’s just the places I’ve played darts.

Monkey Bowling seemed fun at first, even if it wasn’t even up to the standards of the Wii Sports pack-in. That was until we found out that the game has a critical flaw. Instead of actually making a bowling motion (which will almost always result in a hard spin to the left), you just line up your monkey on the line just right of center, and then kind of flick your wrist. You’ll get a strike every time. It absolutely sucked all of the joy and challenge out of the game.

Other Super Monkey Ball annoyances include the weird sort of tournament structure of the minigames, where the person furthest behind in points gets to pick the next game. Then there’s the main game, where the controls are just plain non-intuitive. Where you might instinctually want to hold the controller horizontal (like the scheme in ExciteTruck), you hold it one handed and vertical, and it just doesn’t feel right. This makes the game harder than it needs to be, and my friend David at Nintendo World Report talks more about that. It’s just sad to see a game that was so great once reduced to this shameful, and arguably lacking in fun, ridiculous money grab of a launch title.

Oh, and speaking of ExciteTruck, where I had high hopes for the game, they were all dashed while I was line-sitting. GameCrazy had six Wii-osks set up to try ExciteTruck, and I found that you had to complete the Tutorial to unlock the main game. Lame, but OK, new system with a new control scheme, I can understand that. Until I found that you had to complete the tutorial, of which there are 16-20 different lessons. I got to lesson five or six, and I was already bored and handed the controller to someone that really didn’t seem all that interested in trying it. That doesn’t bode well, especially considering we were all waiting to buy our Wiis.

What kills me about all of this is that Wii Sports and The Legend of Zelda are just so good. I know the controller is new, and developers are still sort of experimenting with it (which is why they are basically monetizing their experiments by turning them into a collection of minigames), but what I don’t understand is how you can take a game that was fun and make it un-fun, and somehow manage to be oblivious to that fact. You’d have to think that as the testers started committing seppukku (ritual suicide), they might have sensed that something was wrong.

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I also thought Monkey Ball was terrible.

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