I think the people at Sega are proud that Super Monkey Ball has joined Ridge Racer as a series that is essentially a lock to get a new game when new gaming hardware comes out. But what new stuff is there to do with each Monkey Ball roll-out?
On the 3DS, they put the series in 3D. For the Wii Balance Board, they had you control it with your feet. The iOS versions let you tilt the system. The Vita version, subtitles Banana Splits lets you control with tilt, which works nicely. You roll your monkey-in-a-ball across platforms suspended in mid-air, trying not to fall off as you approach the goal (technically you're tilting the stage, of course). But that's not very special. That's standard Monkey Balling and a Monkey Ball game's got to do other things with the Vita, too.
In the limited build of the game I played today at a Sega press event in New York I was able to try out one of Monkey Ball's Vita experiments: a stage-creation mode that translates a photo you've taken with the Vita's outward-facing camera into a Monkey Ball stage. What a wonderful idea! As of today... what poor execution.
I've got no complaints about how basic Monkey Ball played on the Vita today. But the game's translation of a simple photo I took of two iPhones, a pen and a remote control all sitting on top of a white table into a level looked, well, nothing like two iPhones, a pen and a remote control all sitting on top of a white table. It turned it into a blotchy multi-colored arrangement of ramps and platforms. It sure made a stage, but I saw no connection between it and the photo I took. (You're asked to shake the Vita to "construct the level", and the more you shake the tougher the level — neat idea but even a minimal shake created an unrecognisable level.)
The Sega rep who watched me play the game pointed out that the Banana Splits is maybe only at 50 per cent completion. Plenty of time to get this right. I hope so. The prospect of being able to convert photos I take into custom Monkey Ball levels is great, but the game currently worse at that than I am at translating the Martian language to French.
Banana Splits will include plenty of mini-games as well, but they weren't in the build I saw today. So what have we got so far? A solid standard mode and one ambitious, currently non-functional experiment. This could go either way, people. The game will be out in late March, by which time the Vita better be out in North America.