Super Monkey Ball: Ticket Blitz (Arcade) Review

Although I’ve only played two of the games to date—the original Monkey Ball at the Galloping Ghost Arcade and Super Monkey Ball 3D on Nintendo 3DS—I consider myself a fan of the series. There’s something so intrinsically satisfying about maneuvering a monkey in a ball along twisting paths while collecting bananas.

So imagine my delight when I saw Super Monkey Ball: Ticket Blitz at Southern Lanes in Hopkinsville one fateful day in May. Sure, I never play ticket redemption, but I couldn’t pass up more Monkey Ball. With the leftover money from my Aliens Armageddon playthrough, I coined up and prepared myself for kooky fun with protagonist Ai Ai.

The only problem? The game wasn’t at all I’d hoped it would be, even when accounting for my inflated expectations. Somehow, Super Monkey Ball: Ticket Blitz manages to do so much right, yet somehow does just as much wrong. Buckle in tightly as I discuss intricacies of this dilemma in the review below.

Super Monkey Ball: Ticket Blitz

Developer: Sega

Publisher: Sega

Release date: 2011

Gameplay

Like any good entry in the series, Super Monkey: Ticket Blitz drops your ball-bound primate into a winding, sloping path with the goal of progressing from point A to point B while collecting bananas and without falling or running out of time. The challenge comes from fighting your own momentum in pursuit of said goal.

This is a downright addictive gameplay loop that never fails to the draw me the edge of my proverbial seat. Do I meticulously collect every banana and brave the possibility of falling off the map or running out of time? Or do I blaze past the extras and sacrifice the hair-raising fun derived from imminent danger? The risk-reward balance is impeccable.

Ticket Blitz mixes things up by tying gameplay performance to, as the name implies, ticket accrual. Tickets are awarded based on three factors: degree of progression through the stage, number of bananas collected, and number of seconds remaining on the timer. Skilled players can make magic happen by acing everything in tandem.

The main difference induced by the switch to tickets is the removal of a lives system. Now, you can die as many times as you like. Plummet from the stage too many times and you won’t cross the finish line before time is called. (The lack of lives should’ve tipped me off that this wasn’t the most the traditional Monkey Ball out there.)

After each normal stage, Ai Ai is transported to a bonus stage in which you launch from a death-defying ramp and attempt to land within the jackpot ring. As far as I can tell, this sequence is entirely skill-based, but I was never able to nail it.

Honestly, the core gameplay is the single-best aspect of the entire Ticket Blitz package, so if that’s all you’re looking for, you’ll be in good shape. Problems arise when you seek any depth beyond that.

Content

Let’s get something out of the way really quickly. The original Monkey Ball—which, might I remind you, is also a coin-operated arcade game—boasts more than 50 stages, structured in a sequential manner, with the player paying to continue only if he or she runs out of lives. That sounds pretty fair, right?

In stark contrast, Super Monkey Ball: Ticket Blitz features a paltry 12 stages, randomly selected on behalf of the player, with no free continues whatsoever. Considering how short the stages are, you’ll maybe get a minute and a half of gameplay per credit. This is a far cry from what we’ve come to expect from the franchise.

Oh, and guess what? Ai Ai is the only playable character. You won’t find MeeMee, Baby, GonGon, YanYan, Doctor, Jam, Jet, C AiAi, W MeeMee, A Baby, F GonGon, P YanYan, R Doctor, N Jam, or B Jet here, folks. (And yes, I totally looked up online a list of the full series’ playable characters.) That’s not only a drawback to the content but also to the presentation in my book.

My assumption is the traditional Monkey Ball formula was streamlined as much as possible to better enable ticket redemption, which may be explain the extreme draught of content in Ticket Blitz. It’s good for a quick hit but not much else.

Controls

The primary input utilized in Ticket Blitz, a trackball, may be point of contention among series fans, many of whom may be more accustomed to the banana-shaped joystick, analog thumbstick, circle pad, or touch screen inputs of previous entries.

As someone who’s played Monkey Ball with both the banana-shaped joystick and the 3DS circle pad, I can assure you the trackball works fine. In fact, I’d say it feels most natural to for the real-world peripheral to mirror the in-game object. This is perhaps the weightiest means yet of guiding Ai Ai to and fro.

On that note, my only “issue” with the trackball is it may have just a bit too much weight to it. The thing is a real beast to get going, and once you’ve gained momentum, stopping in your tracks is effortful. I adore the realism facilitated by the arcade-exclusive controller; I just think the trackball could’ve been a touch lighter.

Other than that, Ticket Blitz controls beautifully, as any game this sensitive should. My one or two falls during my playthrough could be pinned solely on my own miscalculations. I don’t think you’ll find the input method bears much fault.

Graphics/Presentation

Ticket Blitz looks pretty clean for a game released in 2011. The polygon count is high, the colors pop, the effects are vibrant, and the frame rate never stutters. I certainly couldn’t ask for much more from a high-definition arcade game released at that time.

I think the HUD and information screens are positively charming and consistent with what we’ve seen in previous games. There’s not too much text to parse on any given screen, which contributes to the simplistic aesthetic.

Ticklet Blitz borrows various elements from Step and Roll and Banana Blitz, according to the Super Monkey Ball Wiki. Not having played those games, I can’t confirm this myself, but I’d wager at least some assets were reused to make life easier for the developers.

Regardless, Ticket Blitz is an adorable treat for the eyes. Those of you who already fell in love with the series’ identity will undoubtedly enjoy what’s on display here. I know I certainly enjoyed seeing the series in HD for the first time.

Sound/Music

Luckily for fans such as myself, Ticket Blitz sounds every bit as good as you’d expect from a proper Monkey Ball title. The soundtrack is joyously upbeat and feels almost like it was ripped straight from a cartoon. I best remember the groovy “results” and “game over” themes, but a quick YouTube search showed me the rest of the score is every bit as fun.

The sound effects are equally delightful, managing to be “in your face” without overpowering the music. Actions as simple as rolling about, collecting bananas, and smashing through the goal line are made all the more satisfying by their intoxicating tones. Also, Ai Ai has a funny, little monkey voice. Who doesn’t love that?

Again, I can’t speak to whether these assets were repurposed from a previous Monkey Ball game. Even if they were, I think the sounds are so distinctly “Monkey Ball” that some carryover is absolutely necessary. The sound design is one of the better elements of Ticket Blitz. I sure as heck can’t complain.

Cabinet

Regardless of how it plays, Ticket Blitz is housed in one heckuva cabinet. This space-conscious upright boasts a 32-inch monitor, a 7-inch trackball, stereo sound, and colorful LEDs. I positively adore how decked out in bananas this thing is, from the side art to the marquee.

Speaking of the marquee, I quite appreciate how it feels like a canopy of leaves overhanging the screen. And of course, I can’t get enough of good ol’ Ai AI chilling above the logo. This cabinet was very clearly designed with the goal of drawing children (and curmudgeonly arcade bloggers) into the action.

All in all, this is a wicked cool cabinet that proudly showcases the lovable spirit of the Monkey Ball franchise. Despite my complaints toward the gameplay, I’d be a fool to deny Ticket Blitz its well-deserved praise in this department.

Super Monkey Ball: Ticket Blitz is far from a bad game. After all, I wouldn’t have written such glowing praises of certain element if it were. I think my main gripe with the game is it doesn’t live up to standard set by its forebears. There’s a certain spark missing in this highly diluted version of the Monkey Ball experience.

In my opinion, much of that dilution results from the ticket redemption angle the game peddles. Sure, Ticket Blitz is inherently enjoyable even if you ignore the tickets, but it’s not quite fun enough to warrant repeat play. I don’t see why I’d ever come back to this when I could purchase, say, Banana Blitz HD on the Nintendo Switch.

If you love both the Monkey Ball franchise and ticket redemption, there’s no better product out there than Super Monkey Ball: Ticket Blitz. However, if you’re after something meatier, I recommend passing on this one. There are far more engaging titles on which you can spend your hard-earned cash at your local arcade.

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