Why Super Monkey Ball 2: Monkey Race is the best Kart Racer of All Time

 

Select Mode!?! Party Game!!??!?! Monkey Race!?!?!?!?! GRAND PRIX!?!?!?!

Aiai? MeeMee? Baby? Gongon. Always Gongon. Why? Because there is only one way. The Gongonian way.

Over the last 13 years (exactly, as of the day I’m writing this) only one kart racer has maintained a level of simplicity, replay value, and overall addictiveness that keeps me coming back again and again. That game is Super Monkey Ball 2: Monkey Race.

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Although not traditionally known as a kart racing franchise, Super Monkey Ball is a well-beloved, gravity-based, platform puzzle solver, and if Thomas Edison taught us anything, it’s that genius happens on accident. Who could have guessed that monkeys trapped in balls and racing like bizarrely trained animal performers could make the greatest game of all time? This game is a true clash of champions that has gone on to bond, destroy, and redefine my major friendships and relationships over the years.

Let’s start with Charming Banana Road. This is the first course of the Grand Prix, and a true introduction to a take on kart racing that is no longer about who can go the fastest, but something more. Something about who can take the best line, which can be refined over years to come.  The race starts… 3… 2… 1… all the computers get a boost. Years can go by, and you still don’t know how to do the goddamn boost. You google it, and try it. Another year goes by and you accidentally get the boost once. No one will ever believe you. Months go by. Another friend gets the boost and you begin to wonder if you really saw what you just saw. Forget the boost. Learn to live without the boost. You never needed it anyway. You are a superior monkey, with superior breeding, in a superior ball.

Back to Charming Banana Road. You hit the first Mario-Kart style speed boost and immediately accelerate to over 100 monkeys per hour. Then the second boost. Feeling comfortable, you hit a wall and veer from the course.  Soon you realize that not all boosts are your allies, and some are merely fruit from the forbidden tree — temptations by Sun Wukong, the Monkey King. This is your first race, so naturally you finish in last. You don’t even finish. You retire. Your punishment? You have to eat a quarter pound of food (half a kilo if you’re into the metric system). Not yet though, your tab will expire at the end of the night. There will be plenty of failures and redemptions to come.

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You continue onto the next course: Lovely Heart Ring.  The track is fairly straightforward, and you get to the end. What is this madness of arcade style bumpers? You can’t get over the bumpers because you didn’t expect them. You weren’t ready, and you aren’t a Gongonian — yet.  In this moment of despair you flash back to the last time you were happy. It was a few hours before you saw her for the last time. You still remember the smell of her hair… how soft her skin was.  You long for just one more day with her. You retire. A half pound of food now.

You begin Clocktower Hill. This is the Daytona 500 of monkey racing. A finish here will get you noticed for the rest of the season. You go at it with everything you have. The course seems fairly straightforward. The race goes on and on until the final lap. Against all odds you see in your small corner of the screen that you’re in 2nd place. Disaster strikes. A napalm comes down from the sky and bounces you back to the beginning of the track. You barely make it in at 8th place, without retiring. Maybe you aren’t completely worthless. Maybe she was wrong.

The next race appears on the screen. A brief memory of the great dirt courses of Mario-Kart washes over you, aglow, as you see a familiar pallet of browns, whites and beiges. This is not that course. This is the Cannonball Circuit. This is where it all comes together. You begin to realize the boosts are a lie. So is going the fastest. This is a game of wits and expectations, not one of speed or strength. The true Gongonian will always outrace the faster monkey. This revelation hits you like a Brock Lesnar F5. You don’t know what to do with yourself.  You race and race and race only to retire again. 3 quarters of a pound of food now. The anxiety sets in and you send a text. “Hey, what’s up?” She won’t reply. Why would she? She’s with Mike now.

The next course begins. Before you try this at home let me warn you about Submarine Street.  Submarine Street is the Hot Gates that was the downfall of the Persian army.  Xerxes himself lay ruined and bloodied on its ice-laden pathways. Many champions have fallen here before. Your friends warn you of its vertical chicanes and twisting ramps as you continue on your 4-person adventure through the Grand Prix. There is no oxygen on Submarine Street. Luckily, you’re a monkey in a ball.  “F*** this f****** game,” you say as you retire yet a fourth time. A whole fucking pound of food. You check your texts. A sense of longing soon becomes despair as you remember the one time you were dumb enough to check her phone. It hurts like a knife all over again. You remember the time you spent all weekend playing Castle Crashers with her. “Maybe she’s the one?” you thought. You chastise yourself for bringing up the memory and tell your friends you’re quitting.

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After 10 minutes of your friends explaining that there is just one more race left you finally give in and begin the final track. The only track that seems to make sense: Starlight Highway. This track is finally about speed.  It’s a racing game you can get behind. You limp into a 5th place finish and you pat yourself on the back. For a second you forget about your misery, you look around the room as your friends devilishly congratulate you. It’s time to pay the piper.

They present you with a medley of frozen vegetables. A pounds worth. It was all they had in the freezer, let alone, the fridge. With your heart shattered and longing for some kind of acceptance into a group, you begin to eat. And eat. And eat. You finish the plate as if you were pushing through the final minutes of an intense crossfit section.  You run to the bathroom and start vomiting.  Then crying.  “I miss you… you cheating whore,” you say to yourself under your breath.  You go pass out on the couch, feeling the loneliest you’ve ever felt in your life.

You start working out, rarely leaving your house, only to go to the gym. Months go by… weeks of extreme loneliness. You continue to build and build, creating a confidence within that you had never recognized in yourself.  You were finally the creature that all your dead ancestors had intended you to be. You were more than that. You are a champion. At last: you are a Gongonian. You run into her at a Target. You’re buying new clothes to show off that sweet bod you cultivated in the gym.  Mossimo always fit you best, you just didn’t know that you had it inside of you to pull it off. You make small talk before heading to the checkout lanes. It’s Friday Night. You go out and get drunk with your friends.

You return back to their house.  You’re half asleep on their couch when you get a text.  It’s her. “Hey, what’s up?” she asks.  You turn your phone off as you turn to your drunk friends.  Wanna play some Monkey Race?  “Fuck yeah,” they respond drunkenly, still pouring Jagermeister into novelty shot glasses. You never needed her.

Character Select:  You choose Gongon.

On the whole, I give Super Monkey Ball 2: Monkey Race 2 a 9/10.  It has some quirky physics malfunctions that were characteristic of most gamecube racers of the time, but the game has aged impeccably, and the charming graphics still hold up as well as ever. The game still remains ultra competitive, with its only knocks being that it must be played multiplayer for maximum enjoyment.

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