We’ve been keeping tabs on Sega’s Super Monkey Ball Bounce (Free) since we first heard about its soft-launch back in May. While a pachinko (*cough* Peggle) experience with SMB characters probably isn’t what most would think about in regards to a new game in the series, the thematics and execution make Bounce a pretty fun game to play. Unfortunately, enjoyable gameplay can’t fully make up for the incredibly annoying (and occasionally heavy-handed) use of freemium elements.
In case the screen shots don’t make it apparent, Bounce is heavily inspired by the likes of Peggle. The pachinko-style gameplay of aiming and launching balls with the goal of hitting all the special targets within the allotment of balls is nearly identical. The same goes for the game’s general scoring mechanisms, such as extra points awarded for a wide variety of moves, a moving platform that restores your ball if it lands in it, and so on. Even the game’s “special balls” are, for the most part, carbon copies. It’s a tried-and-true gameplay system and Bounce succeeds in preserving everything that makes players repeatedly come back for more.
Not content to be a mere clone, Bounce does incorporate a few new elements that are both good and bad. The most enjoyable addition is the inclusion of boss battles, which basically task players with hitting large moving targets multiple times while ensuring that the rest of the targets don’t make your ball go awry. Similarly, there are also Puzzle levels which task players with passing certain levels with only one ball. Both do a good job of mixing things up and add some uniqueness to what Bounce has to offer. The same goes for the game’s increased emphasis on bumpers and permanent barriers, which make the game a bit more random and hectic, but still allows for careful shots to be planned. In these ways, Bounce puts its own stamp on the genre while still retaining that incredibly fun gameplay.
Unfortunately, the rest of Bounce’s gameplay differences are due to its transition to a freemium system, and really get in the way of a fun experience. Ads are shown incessantly between levels, and there doesn’t appear to be a way to simply purchase an IAP to turn them off. There’s a premium currency system in place but the currency isn’t rewarded often yet the in-game shop only sells power-ups and cosmetic upgrades that take it. The power-ups are particularly annoying as they add different ways to complete levels but are very finite and require a lot of currency to purchase. In addition, the way some of the levels are set up, I just can’t help but think that they are specifically designed to be impossible to attain three stars in unless you use the special weapons. I wouldn’t have an issue with this typically, but since all weapon purchases require the game’s hard to earn premium currency the whole enterprise becomes suspect.
Another freemium element that Bounce uses imposes a literal time wall on unlocking new levels unless you wait a long period of time or spend some of that premium currency to instantly unlock it. In one case, I was told to wait 72 hours or pay up. Granted, Bounce bestows a liberal amount of currency upon first playing, and I was easily able to bypass the wall with what I was provided. However, saving it all for these roadblocks (which I find pretty ridiculous to begin with) means you aren’t using it to purchase weapons and brings us full circle to the issue I have with some of the levels. A life system also means players may have to eventually shell out currency or wait awhile in order to try a hard level.
It’s hard to strike a freemium balance with puzzle games like Super Monkey Ball Bounce. You want to create an enjoyable experience while not giving the impression that the odds are stacked against the player unless they shell out power-ups and items that require premium currency. Unfortunately, I don’t think Bounce quite succeeds in achieving that balance. When you add in the ads and the plethora of time walls, Bounce ends up being less of a game than it deserves to be.