In the first in what I hope to be an illustrious and widely celebrated series, OMFG (standing for ‘OneofMyFavouriteGames’) will be a collection of love letters to the very best gaming has to offer. It won’t just be a list of Nintendo and rhythm action titles, I promise.
As has been documented elsewhere on this here blog, I am far from a social butterfly. I’m more a grumpy moth, and anyone that has had the displeasure of being a guest in my house will have experienced the nagging sensation that I want them to clear off so I can get back to quietly sobbing myself to sleep. But for one brief moment back in the early 00’s, my tiny student digs was one of East Anglia’s premier nightspots. Revellers came from near and far (other rooms in the flat and just over the road) to sample the simple delight of flinging a monkey down a bowling alley. Not literally of course; one of my housemates was studying animal sciences and wouldn’t stand for any of that caper; but within the confines of a video game that only ever could be created by Sega at their sunny day, simplistic, batshit best. This was Super Monkey Ball and it was totally bananas.
Before I go off on one about the multi-player (heralded by the fantastically cheesy and confusing inclination of the voice sample ‘party games…?!’, as if the game was questioning your decision to find fun in flinging an ape down a ramp and send it soaring through the sky), I should perhaps spend some time taking about the solo experience.
It was alright.
I’m being flippant of course. But talking about the perfectly serviceable maze based challenges that made up the solo campaign strikes me like focusing on the quiet shared understanding when you catch a chimp’s gaze rather than how funny it is when they throw their shit at each other or wank themselves off. Perhaps it was a nobler pursuit; a more elegantly designed and thoughtful section of the game. Perhaps more satisfying too; I daresay an entire generation of gamers have the first time they cleared the level Expert 7 etched into their memory.
But it just plain wasn’t as fun as the other bit. In a game as infectiously colourful as this, the image of a solo player perched on the edge of their chair, face locked in grim determination just doesn’t seem like a good fit. No. For me, Monkey Ball was a bunch of mates drunkenly cheering, jeering and dropping c-bombs with wild abandon.
You see, Monkey Ball, and Monkey Bowling in particular, was such a big part of our social lives it was responsible for creating an entire dictionary of terminology. And most of these revolved around the concept of “Cunting Over”. At this juncture I feel the need to point out here that we were about as far removed from a bunch of roudy ladz and laydeez as you could possibly imagine. For starters we were spending our student days indoors perfecting our bowling spins rather than trying to have sex with each other. So Lord only knows how repeated use of the word cunt became such an integral part of this cheerful little game but it’s origins are now lost in a cloud of rizla papers and cheap wine.
Anyway, Cunting Over was essentially giving the next player the minor inconvenience of having to wait for the ball to roll down the alley before they could have their go. If your first ball resulted in one remaining pin then you were in prime cunting territory. Get your shot lined up perfectly and then set the monkey on his way with minimum power and his agonising crawl down the lane towards a spare was seen as the ultimate insult. Manage something a little bit more flashy; like adding a bit of spin or knocking down more than one pin and your cunting would be elevated to the status of “Mimi’s Golden Cunts”. Balls it up by not achieving the spare and you’d feel the dark terrible shame of contributing to “Gongon’s Cunting Blunders”. It was a beautiful example of adding your own pointless twist. Nothing more than a stylish flourish to make loses that little bit more humiliating.
At the danger of turning this into a post of in-jokes and you-had-to-be-there’s, Monkey Ball is also responsible for the most hilarious argument I have ever beared witness to. Myself and three others decided to have a quiet evening trying to land on the tiny, moving, big point platforms in Monkey Target (given the decidedly less offensive but equally satisfying term of “plinthing”). Suddenly another member of our group burst through the door. Now, it’s safe to say this chap was a bit of a loose cannon and it was clear he had been on the booze so the sight of his furious face was cause to drop the pad. Fag half hanging out of his mouth, pacing around the room like a scenery-chewing villain from a Guy Ritchie film, he proceeded to lay into us for having the gall to play a four player game with four players and not rushing out to fetch him first. “Oh well. This is very fucking cosy isn’t lads? Very cosy. Having a nice little game of Monkey Ball are you? HAVING A NICE FUCKING GAME OF MONKEY BALL?!” It’s rather difficult to take a hardman routine seriously when the subject is an abstract children’s game featuring a kawaii girl monkey with a bow in her hair. Safe to say we have drifted apart since.
This was all within our first year, and although many games came and went during our time together, Monkey Ball remained a constant. Occasionally we’d dabble in the glorious chaos of a Monkey Fight or the seemingly endless relaxation offered by a game of Monkey Golf, but really, it was all about bowling. The sequel smartly offered a twist on this winning formula by introducing the “crazy lanes”; a series of increasingly difficult challenges with warping, twisting alleys or pin protecting obstructions which made cunting over all the more difficult. I later read that Monkey Bowling was essentially “broken” and that strikes could easily be achieved by lining up in a certain way. I’m very pleased that none of us managed to stumble upon this One Weird Trick or the game would have effectively been ruined. Perhaps we would have done if we weren’t spending all our time trying to get into Mimi’s Golden Cunts.
You might think I’ve not spent a lot of this post explaining what makes Super Monkey Ball a good video game and you’d be completely right. But then sometimes what makes a game one of your favourites isn’t the quality of the game itself but how you remember it. It’s your tiny room rammed with new friends, passing the pad long into the night. It’s finding the perfect ice breaker, a game so gorgeous in simplicity that literally everyone wanted to play it. It’s someone pouring a pint of vodka and coke on your bed but you don’t care because your having too much fun, honest, it’s fine I’ve completely forgotten all about it. Like a song that reminds you of a special night, a game can be a reminder of the friendships that you forged that will hopefully last a lifetime.
And then it’s the simple joy of cunting those pricks over.
Anyone for a party game..?!