After five years of filling the console scene with just puzzle-filled games, Sega has enlisted the services of Traveller's Tales to take the Super Monkey Ball crew out of that comfort zone and place them in a pseudo-platforming adventure, with classic puzzle areas littered throughout the main game and pre-game menus. Unfortunately, those new puzzles are the highlight of the game, since the story-heavy adventure mode disappoints in every major way.
Unlike SMB Deluxe, which placed story scenes between traditional puzzle levels, TT made the mistake of patterning SMBA's story mode after the absolute worst Rare fetch quests on the N64. You're given task after task to complete - with few of them leading anywhere, and even fewer being fun to do. You can do quite a bit of exploration in the mode, and that's about where it peaks. Far too much emphasis is placed on the story, which results in terrible cinematics that just go on forever without much of a point. They kind of remind me of the CG Donkey Kong Saturday morning show in that they can be somewhat enjoyable when you just wake up and aren't quite fully-conscious, but viewing them when completely alert shows off every single problem with them.
What's worse is that this isn't exactly the kind of tale that needs to be told over a long period of time, and yet it is. This forces the game to end up feeling like DBZ episodes - with very little being accomplished, and a whole lot of filler being used to waste time. That's why it helps to really view this is an SMB puzzle game first, and a story-driven game second, because the story mode is a complete disaster. It isn't fun to play due to camera problems and gameplay limitations (that I'll get into in a bit) - and it isn't fun to watch since the cinemas drag on and feature THE most annoying voice work ever. This leaves us with a mode that doesn't really succeed in any major way. It's easily the biggest disappointment of the game, and its biggest downfall since so much rides on it.
I wish the game's downfalls ended there, but they don't. During both the story and puzzle games, you will have to concern yourself with a flaky camera, which you can't control, and will likely lead to many needless deaths. In puzzle areas, it can be managed - since you have a set track to go on and if you learn its path, you can overcome the camera going wherever it wants to. However, with the story mode, you don't have that luxury. You've given fairly complex levels to navigate (especially considering you can just roll around them, and cannot jump or traverse them in any other way), and you have to deal with a camera shifting around at literally every turn. It makes every big move you make take about three times as long as it should. It's a shame that the camera hurts the game so much, because the basic steering controls are tighter than ever before and make getting around the traditional puzzle stages easier than in past games.
Visually, this is the same basic game we're used to seeing. Sure, the grass looks greener and sharper (you can even make out individual blades of grass), and the monkey balls look a little smoother, but the overall look is about the same as you're used to -you'd be hard-pressed to really spot major differences between this and the first game. That isn't really a bad thing since the series has always looked consistently good - and the simplistic visual style has kept the action squarely focused on the tasks at hand. I applaud Traveller's Tales for improving the graphics without taking anything away from the game.
Like the graphics, the audio hasn't changed much over the years. Music is still light, cheery, and incredibly catchy. The same goes for the monkey sayings during play. They'll jump for joy when victorious, and you will too since that emotion is conveyed in quick bits of monkey speak. You won't be jumping for joy when you hear that nonsensical monkey speak used for about five straight minutes during story mode cutscenes.
Out of all the reasons I've seen people say they love the SMB series, I've never once seen anyone say it was due to the story - and that holds true here just like it did in other SMBs that tried to throw one in. After five minutes of the child-like gibberish, I was about ready to hit the mute button. Instead of that drastic measure, I just turned the volume down so that the voices were barely audible - and then turned it up when the main game's music started. That made the experience far more enjoyable, although one should never have to go through such measure to play a game.
Taken as a whole, this isn't a terrible game, just a very disappointing one. If you want to get the most out of it, buy it for the new puzzles and not the story mode. Also, unless you've got a burning desire to play new SMB puzzles right now, just wait for a price drop. $40 is way too much for just 30 new puzzles, especially when SMB Deluxe can be had for less than that (and even bundled with Sonic Mega Collection Plus for Xbox owners). With so many top-shelf games coming out in the next month or two, I can't really recommend this right now. Waiting for a price drop is probably the best solution, since you'll still be able to enjoy the puzzles here, plus the other great games coming out soon, for less money. If future Adventure games are made, I hope TT fixes the camera and is able to shift the focus back to the puzzles, since the current story mode setup just doesn't work. SMB Deluxe's story mode worked just fine, and maybe combining that one with this by having just one central hub to go to would work best. Then you'd be able to explore a game world and do a lot of puzzles without the fetch quest filler, and have more fun in the process. It's a shame they couldn't get it right the first time, because the idea behind this game was sound , and then got destroyed in the final product - leaving a lot of wasted potential in the final product.