There are two parts to the success of Super Monkey Ball. It takes a very simple concept a long way with expert level design and the right degree of challenge at every juncture. It's really nothing more than a glorified version of Midway's Marble Madness. The other part to Super Monkey Ball's success is similar to what made Lemmings worked: you have to constantly out-think the hapless creatures under your steward, and this addiction never ceases. On the Game Boy Advance, Super Monkey Ball Jr. is able to combine both mechanical genius and addictive magic to give you a compelling offbeat title that everyone ought to check out.
From a technical standpoint, Super Monkey Ball Jr. is pretty phenomenal, considering it was a popular 3D title converted from the Dreamcast and GameCube over to the Game Boy Advance. The lack of any detailed textures has made it possible for Realism to add niceties like reflective surfaces. The long draw distances also belong to the bigger consoles, but the Game Boy Advance has no problems handling it even as you juke the tables left and right.
Super Monkey Ball Jr. is like Midway's old marble classic. You don't control the monkey in the ball, per se. You control the table by tilting it, and Newtonian mechanics does the rest to make your monkey move. You'll hold your breath when the monkey narrowly avoids slipping off the playing area. You'll grit your teeth as you try to make tight turns to grab every banana on the field. The controls strike a good balance between too sensitive and too inert. A slip in this department could have easily made or break the game on this platform, but Realism has done a good job duplicating what would have been done through analog sticks on the Game Boy Advance.
To be honest, the whole monkey ordeal could effectively not be there, but Sega (co-published with THQ) and Realism made the monkeys return simply because of the cute factor. The varied colors and loud upbeat soundtrack help convey a sense of exuberance not found in the original Marble Madness - and I should know, since I am reviewing the Midway ports for other handheld platforms.
Not happy to leave Super Monkey Ball where it is, the developers went on include some variations on the basic gameplay. You have Monkey Bowling and Monkey Golf where the gameplay adapts very well (we're still talking about a ball going from point A to point B here). Then you also have Monkey Fight, which endows monkeys with some boxing gloves so they can go at it. They're all strong sideshows, and really, they could steal the spotlight away if you get frustrated on the main part of the game. The only problem is the need to unlock them.
Most players will have slogged through the core of the game before they even touch the mini-games, so it's not an issue. And as I said before, the design is just right for a title like this. It's neither too difficult nor too easy, and even when you strike out you're willing to go up to bat again.
Super Monkey Ball Jr. can support up to four players for multiplayer. Against one other player, you can do time trials against each other on the main "campaign" mode. Again, Realism has some of the work cut out for it because they know multiplayer was a definite hook, especially in light of how it measurably pushed console sales for the GameCube. Allowing you to play most of the modes found on the console machines in a handheld format is a smart thing to do, and it adds to the overall value of the product.
The junior moniker doesn't really mean this game is geared towards children (it only appears to affect the monkeys' appearances). They'll have to be pretty crafty kids to get through some of the expert levels, unless the kids you have in mind are the ones who keep beating you at every game out there. But the overall presentation will undoubtedly lure adults and kids alike. There's simply so much to like about Super Monkey Ball Jr. based on its presentation and design alone. In that sense, it's no wonder this title has reached so many platforms. If you're looking for something out of the ordinary or a la carte for your Game Boy Advance, Super Monkey Ball Jr. is an exceptional choice.