Keeping the Monkey Ball Rolling
Since its initial release back in 2001, the community for the Super Monkey Ball series is still going strong. However, that’s not to say that the community hasn’t been in the best place for some time. Despite its notoriety, fans talk about how SEGA hasn’t been able to replicate Super Monkey Ball’s previous success. The speedrunning community is especially the most vocal on this end. Speedrunners are arguably vital to the community and even the reason as to why the games still receive attention today.
The most popular games within the series are Super Monkey Ball (2001), Super Monkey Ball 2 (2002), and Super Monkey Ball Deluxe (2005). Since fans consider Deluxe, a combination of the first two games with additional stages, as the “last good Monkey Ball game,” some would say that fans have been waiting roughly 16 years for a new game that matches the quality of the first three games. None of the games after Deluxe caught on with fans because they lacked difficulty, a staple of the series. Players couldn’t help but notice how easy the games were, and some had hilariously busted difficulty curves. One of the biggest offenders of this trend was Super Monkey Ball Banana Blitz for the Wii. While reviewers of the time believed the gameplay was decent, the HD remake of the game highlights those problems. People who wanted the best experience either had to keep waiting or play through the older games. Of course, players can only enjoy a single experience for so long. Content updates and patches did not exist during this era, making sustainability impossible. Logically, speedrunners were the only players who engaged with the older games since they normally spend hundreds even thousands of hours trying to find ways to complete the game as fast as possible, going as far as discovering a glitch that players use to skip to the end of entire challenge modes.
Those with experience in speedrunning, the act of completing games from start to finish in the shortest time possible, will know that players will eventually optimize a game to the point where players cannot physically go any faster. As speedrunners continued to optimize the first three titles well into the mid 2010’s, interest could only fade. Players remain interested for so long before they move onto something else. However, in the late summer of 2016, things changed. Players in the speedrunning community created a set of tools to mod the ROM of Super Monkey Ball 2. These tools allow players to design their own stages. At first, levels were primitive. The programmers were still developing the tools to let players use assets like teleporters and moving stage parts. Naturally, the programmers perfected the tools to permit all kinds of possibilities. The downside of the mods is that the mods only work through emulation, but because emulators are now more accessible and efficient than ever, even a simple laptop is enough to run a ROM hack of Super Monkey Ball 2. The explosion of PC gaming also means more players are able to access and play these ROM hacks.
Fast forward to 2018, players have expanded their abilities to create intricate stages. One particular player, BitesSMB, released a custom level pack called Super Monkey Ball 2: Monkeyed Ball. This mod adds custom, well-crafted stages with a new selection of music, back drops, and a revamped story mode. Some of these stages are different takes on old ideas, while other stages experiment with new ideas. Players from all over the community now have new content to sink their teeth into, especially speedrunners. What’s surprising is how the staff of Games Done Quick accepted the ROM hack into their SGDQ 2018 schedule. They avoid doing so because of the ethics of showcasing unofficial software that could invite gamers to commit piracy. Nevertheless, the Monkeyed Ball ROM hack made its way into the event, an event with hundreds of thousands of viewers and raked in millions of dollars in donations over the course of the week-long speedrunning marathon. GDQ indirectly advertised to everyone that Super Monkey Ball still has a lot of life left in it. Sure enough, players breathed life into a stagnating franchise with stages of their own.
Interestingly, during an interview with Crunchyroll in late 2019 about the remake of Super Monkey Ball Banana Blitz, Masao Shirosaki, the producer and designer of the remake, acknowledges why the original games were popular and admitted himself that the first two games were his favorites when asked about his experiences with them:
“I’d have to say [my favorites are] 1 and 2. I started playing them again to get ideas for Banana Blitz HD, and at first, I was doing terribly, but before long I found myself sucked into playing! These two titles are well-made games with excellently designed levels that made me forget that I was playing them for work reasons.“
Furthermore, Shirosaki-san discusses the potential for a remaster of other Super Monkey Ball games and maybe a new entry in the series:
“I am aware that the most favored titles are the first two games. If there is enough support for Banana Blitz HD, this will open up doors for remaking the first two games or even a whole new title to the series. But for now, I’d be happy if everyone has fun playing Banana Blitz HD.“
Today in 2021, SEGA plans to launch Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania, a complete remaster of the first three games. The remaster is equipped with new gameplay modes, updated graphics, and cosmetics. While SEGA has not announced a brand new entry, the publisher does recognize the demand for more Super Monkey Ball. If gamers didn’t mod Super Monkey Ball, then the community might not have had the momentum needed to push SEGA into bringing the franchise back into the spotlight.
Tapping into F-Zero GX’s Potential
Now some people are wondering: what do Super Monkey Ball mods have to do with keeping the F-Zero series relevant in the gaming industry? The answer is simple: F-Zero fans should work towards establishing a custom level editor for F-Zero GX. If there’s a will, then there’s a way. Such a task is challenging and time consuming, obviously, but player-generated content is an indispensable tool. It’s a tool game developers utilize to sustain their games and communities. Halo 5, Fortnite, Forza Horizon 4, Garry’s Mod, Call of Duty: World at War, Terraria, Need for Speed Most Wanted (2006), Sonic Generations, Super Mario Maker 1 & 2, Doom (2016), and the biggest example of all, Minecraft are evidence to that claim. All these games have custom games, excellent mod support, whether developers added support intentionally or unintentionally, or are sandbox games. Sandbox games are perfect for allowing players to create to their hearts content. This list barely even covers all the games with such features. In matter of fact, the expansion kit for F-Zero X on the Nintendo 64 has its own track editor. People could even share tracks with each other! F-Zero X is already an awesome game on its own, so a track editor adds even more replay value. Just imagine F-Zero GX except the Mute City course is set in another location, or how there’s a track designed to test the best player’s skill at the game, a course meant for speedrunners to practice certain strategies, a level with loops that loop into those loops, or a stage with infinite boosting. F-Zero GX’s sandbox contains so many elements that players would have an unfathomable amount of possibilities, even more so than F-Zero X. If the community is to mod any of the F-Zero games, then F-Zero GX is the best game for that.
No game that has mod support or some variation of custom games has not benefitted from such a feature. If such a feature was useless, then game developers would not spend the time and resources to make sandbox games. Give players the proper tools and they’ll go wild with them. Fans might not do it immediately, but mods of F-Zero GX are imperative to the survival of the community, the game, and even the franchise. In a way, Super Monkey Ball is the foil to F-Zero: both Super Monkey Ball and F-Zero GX are games made by Amusement Vision, both run on the GameCube, and both have strong speedrunning communities. The difference? The Super Monkey Ball fans took initiative, while F-Zero fans have not. They’ve been waiting for well over a decade for a new game.. Who can blame them? Creating a track editor for a game made 18 years ago from scratch is a daunting task. The task isn’t impossible, but it is resource intensive. However, at this point, the community’s only option is to mod the game.
Do you think modding F-Zero is the only solution to reviving the series? What about online private servers for F-Zero GX? Leave a comment below and share what you think! Remember to check out our YouTube channel and Twitter for more if you like what you read and above all else, stay positive!
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