After a three ½ year absence, gaming’s most bizarre bunch of simians have returned to a portable system. In that time, you’d think that a newer version of Super Monkey Ball on superior hardware would result in a better game. Sadly, that has not happened.
Like a lost love recently reclaimed, there are some things that seem okay upon first glance and then as time goes on, the flaws become more and more pronounced. Touch ‘n Roll suffers from trying to be a DS game, instead of trying to be a good Monkey Ball game. As a result, we’re left with something that rarely makes good use of its hardware, while also hurting some of the stuff that made the original games stand out so much.
Take the stylus controls, seriously, just take them and chuck them into the furthest regions of your brain - because they don’t work well. During the main game, you’ll want to pull your hair and throw your DS at the wall (at a minimum) because of how unresponsive they are. Touching on the top half of the screen moves you forward; touching on the lower half moves you backward, and the sides move you to the side as you‘d expect. It’s simple in theory, and should work well in execution. Instead we’re left with a system that moves you too slowly, and makes it impossible to succeed in anything but the simplest levels.
At least with the main game, you have the option of using a far superior d-pad and face button setup, which works far better than its GBA equivalent did for maneuvering around tight turns and rolling along narrow passages. This isn’t the case for the mini-games, however, which require the touch screen to play. While this ends up benefiting the Golf, Bowling, Hockey, and first-person shooter War games, it also cripples the Fight mode to the point of making it unplayable.
Given all of the control issues caused by the poor use of the DS hardware, I’m thankful the visuals don’t suffer a similar fate. Thanks to some hard work by Sega, much of the game holds up well to its console brethren. You do use a 2D monkey to navigate though, which is one key difference. Oddly enough, it’s a pretty seamless transition since it just adds to the goofy nature of the game. You’re rolling around levels with a monkey in a hamster ball, so a 3D-to-2D monkey change does seem downright normal by comparison.
Here’s a bit of advice - play this with the volume muted. The music is just awful, and it is only made worse by the cries of your monkey. If you do something good, you get a bit a cheer, and if you falter, you get a whimper. Either way, you end up annoyed, and when you’re trying to balance yourself on a narrow tile plank, you certainly don’t need these kinds of distractions throwing you off your game.
After enjoying the series so much before, it pains me to see it butchered like this on the DS. Even the GBA game works out better than this one since it was an impressive GBA game that also made for a good Monkey Ball installment. This is just a disappointing DS game that does very little justice to what made the series so fun to begin with. There is a lot of fun to be had with the main levels, but that doesn’t hold true for the mini-games, which used to be a constant highlight.
Touch ‘n Roll suffers from trying to shoe-horn in features just to make use of them. You’d think after Ridge Racer DS developers would learn to avoid doing that, and yet here we are about a year and a half after that came out with the latest example in what not to do for a DS game. Due to all of its problems, it’s impossible to recommend this for a full-price purchase. If you see it on sale for $15 or so, give it a shot. It’s certainly worth your time if you‘re an SMB fan, it just isn’t worth a whole lot of your cash.