Recent trademarks hint at a potential new installment in the Super Monkey Ball series. Given the downfall of the franchise post-Super Monkey Ball 2, a new game may or may not mean good news. The once-promising marble-rolling franchise spent the decade after the second game’s release trying and failing to produce a game on par with its first two entries. Questionable gimmicks and poor design sunk nearly every attempt. It has now been nearly seven years since the last main game–2012’s ill-fated but surprisingly decent Banana Splitz on the Vita–and the series has lied largely dormant ever since.
However, even though the franchise is on a 17-year hiatus from being good, there is still hope for the future. Namely, if Sega can dial it back and embrace the simple ideas that made Super Monkey Ball and its sequel great, then a new game on the Switch can bring new life to our beloved anthropomorphic monkey friends.
The problem with Super Monkey Ball since its two GameCube hits has been its identity crisis. The original Super Monkey Ball solidified a fantastic formula–roll your monkey to the stage goal, minding obstacles along the way–and Super Monkey Ball 2’s crazier courses and robust minigames perfected it only a year later. Ever since, infamous titles like Super Monkey Ball Adventure, Super Monkey Ball Touch and Roll, and Super Monkey Ball Step and Roll have tried to fix something that was not broken.
Levels were designed around unnecessary and restrictive gameplay gimmicks that utilized the touch screen, the Wii Balance Board, or even traditional 3D platforming. In other cases, quantity took precedence over quality. Banana Blitz offered a staggering 50 minigames, nearly all of which were shovelware, and Super Monkey Ball 3D had one of the most repetitive and uninspired sets of stages ever alongside some positively awful minigames. The first two Super Monkey Ball games worked because they were pure marble rolling. Returning to that idea can raise this series from the dead. With a few very simple tweaks, they’ve got a home run.
A faithful revival would, of course, fit wonderfully on the Switch. In the past, I’ve found myself wishing for a port of the first two games rather than a new entry because I don’t trust Sega to make a new game that’s any good (and I really will not be disappointed if such a port is ever announced). Still, there is no reason that a new Super Monkey Ball game cannot return the series to its former glory. There was even a brief glimpse of realizing that potential in the Vita’s Super Monkey Ball: Banana Splitz, which had the best level design since Super Monkey Ball 2 and a very rudimentary custom stage feature.
The series needs to move backward before it can move forward. Return to inventive, creative stages instead of designing them easy enough to be completed with a balance board. Give us a few fleshed out minigames like the first two games did. (Hell, just bring the second game’s exact minigame roster back and nobody will complain.) The simple formula that worked before is timeless, and as such does not need any robust changes to bring it into the modern age–take it from someone that still revisits the first two games frequently. In fact, the only real new features that I would want to see in a 2019 Super Monkey Ball title would be a solid custom level editor and some online components.
Interest in the marble roller genre still exists, as demonstrated by successful indie titles like Marble It Up! and the recently funded Indiegogo project Rolled Out! A Super Monkey Ball comeback is far from infeasible–Sega just has to want it, and they have to recognize that the series doesn’t need forced innovation to thrive.