[Mini-Review] Super Monkey Ball Adventure
For better or worse, developers are starting to get rather good at making PSP games that approach the level of scope and length of a console game. Developed simultaneously with the console versions, they aren't ports so much as just another platform, which traditionally handhelds have never been. When you see something like Super Monkey Ball Adventure, note that the same quests, the same five worlds, and the same awesome party games are all included, it's hard not to be a little impressed by things.
And it is impressive. This is, with a few minor concessions, the exact same game you'll get on consoles, just portable, which is a fairly remarkable achievement in and of itself. For once issues like controls or graphical quality aren't really that apparent (though both have their little annoyances, which we'll get to in a moment), and you're left to enjoy -- or rather slog through -- the storyline and characters in the main game more or, if you have friends with copies of the game, play some wireless Ad Hoc multiplayer (sorry, kids, no much-needed game sharing here).
Our review of the PS2 version of the game was fairly short, and this one will be too, because, for the most part, they share the same strengths and weaknesses, though hardware does play a part in some of the PSP version's additional little quibbles. This means, you're treated to the same colorful world, you'll gain the same power-ups and dart off to play through 50 puzzle levels, some approaching the greatness of the original puzzle games, others nowhere near as good.
Luckily, just as in the PS2 version the party games are quite fun -- more fun, in fact, than the main game itself. Six games in all let you use monkeys as cannon balls, as skydivers, as bouncing balls, as boxers, and so on. They aren't all universally fun, but even in portable fun Monkey Cannon is just way too much fun. All of the stuff that exists outside the main adventure on the consoles is here in the PS2 version. It's quite literally the same game.
Unfortunately, it's quite literally the same game, meaning you'll still have to deal with some weird control issues, an unwieldy camera, tons of backtracking, and a lack of the same spark that really make the original puzzle games so fun. The PSP adds its own issues to things too; without a second analog stick, the already troublesome camera system is even more annoying, getting hung up on the environment and lacking a hard re-center button (you have to wait for a few seconds and it auto-centers). Oddly enough, the increased dead zone on the analog nub can actually make the game feel more controllable, particularly on sections where light movements are needed.
But the PSP is not a PS2, and hardware issues bog the experience down. Though it's remarkable that the whole world was crammed onto a UMD, it doesn't happen without minor framerate issues. Rarely is it so severe that it hurts the game, but it's there. Texture detail is understandably a little lower too, though this isn't nearly as much of an issue as you'd think. The completely retarded masked loading system that required runs around a crank to lower doors and move into a new area are gone, replaced instead by a simple cue to wait.
There are odd little issues here and there, though; the PSP is actually quite a bit faster than the PS2 when it comes to saving to a Memory Stick, but SMBA does a sort of screeching halt move whenever there's an auto-save kicked off, freezing for a few seconds. It's not a huge deal, but it pulls you out of the game -- something the auto-save is supposed to avoid.
SMBA on the PSP is, on a purely technical note, a wonderful achievement. The idea of being able to carry with you a console experience is something Sony has been saying the PSP was capable from the start. Unfortunately, you're able to carry this particular console experience with you, which isn't terribly good. Through an odd fluke, the game seems to control better (or at least did for me), but some minor framerate issues, stuttered loading and saving, and an interface that doesn't really carry over well to a smaller screen all add up to a game that's not really better than the console version, just different.
For good or bad, it's just not that different, and certainly not different enough to escape the same problems that existed on the PS2.