Note: The RRP of AU$99.95 for Eye Toy Monkey Mania includes an Eye Toy camera.
The review disc of Monkey Mania happily came to CNET.com.au to coincide with Term One school holidays. The good thing about Eye Toy games is that they are family oriented, and force you to put down the controller, get up off the couch, and burn some calories by jumping around and waving your arms a lot.
Like previous Eye Toy games, between one and four players can play at a time, it's just that you are now a monkey (face it, cute monkeys have been a hit since the Donkey Kong days) and will be playing against other monkeys. First each player must set up (name) their monkey, which is a bit time consuming, as the letter controls are clumsy to manipulate.
Once all players are finally ready to go, you may choose to play the board game, or go straight into one of 30 mini-games. These are similar to Eye Toy games you may have seen before with names such as Hockey Havoc, Rolling Snowball, Down the Chute, Ice Crusher, Simian Stylist, Ten Pin King, Home Run and Barbells for Life.
We arbitrarily picked one called The Great Escape. There is a short blurb to read through first that explains each mini-game - this one involved herding monkeys through a gate down to the river to jump on a raft. No problem, except that after playing it three times, none of the players were able to get a monkey going in the right direction, let alone on a raft to freedom.
So on to the next mini-game - Buoyant Balloon. This time you were supposed to create an air current to get the monkey to float through a cave without touching wall spikes or lava. Again three players, three rounds - zero points.
On to Deep Sea Driver, which was essentially Buoyant Balloon played under water - still no points or joy. Perhaps we just weren't flapping our arms wildly enough yet, but the youngest among us was getting more than a little upset at our total failure. Surely this was not what the Japanese programmers of those cheeky monkeys had in mind?
Finally, we cracked it with Karate Master. On his second go, my 11-year old son chopped through all 30 tiles for a perfect score. A victory photo, his name on the leader board and the use of a Japanese beetle helmet accessory were his reward. Phew!
Thankfully, more victory photos and accessory rewards were to follow (all you have to do is beat the preset high score) but if you're playing with young children - presumably those Monkey Mania is aimed at - you'd better hope to find the easier games first up before they get too discouraged.
The mother in me was concerned by two games called Hide the Banana and Smack the Monkey. Hmm. Turns out Hide the Banana requires all players to play simultaneously as the monkeys try to eat as many bananas in class before the teacher turns around from the black board to zap them. In Smack the Monkey, a monkey runs up and points his bum at the screen. You must brush all the soiled dirt off his shorts, then smack his bum to send him on his way so you can get to the next monkey. Not very politically correct, but the kids thought it was mildly humorous.
Having sampled a fair number of the mini-games, we went back to check out the board game. Although it didn't sound interesting enough to explore when we first started out, we found that the board game is really the most novel thing about Monkey Mania.
Like a real board game, each player spins a wheel and moves various spaces on the board (an island actually). You can win points by landing on spots which link you through to the mini-games where you may compete against the game or one or several of the other players. Some of the mini-games are new and are only revealed after you play them in the board game.
You can then use the points you earn to set traps and obstacles for your competition, or to take short-cuts to advance your monkey to higher levels of the board game. It's not initially clear what item you should buy, exactly where you're headed on the map, or how you're managing to win or lose points, but that becomes clearer as you play along and the board game does add another level of involvement and strategy to the Eye Toy franchise.
After a couple hours, you'll be ready for a break and refreshments. (A banana maybe?) The trick with putting out a game for a younger audience is to strike a balance that works to engage them over a long period, while not being too difficult. Sure, we hit a few frustrations in the beginning and like Eye Toy: Play 2, some mini-games are better than others, but Monkey Mania, once you get the hang of it, is a good multiplayer game that keeps the Eye Toy a pretty fun option for young and old.