The concept of the game is an updated formula of a classic idea. To move the monkey, the player tilts the platform the monkey is sitting on. The ultimate aim is to get the monkey through a goal at the end of a course within a certain period of time. The resulting score is based on how much time is left on the timer at the end of the level, and how many bananas the monkey collected before reaching the goal. The game's difficulty gradually increases, starting gentle and finally progressing to become extremely hard. All of the bananas in the game are branded Dole.
In the Main Game mode Super Monkey Ball is divided into three groups of levels: "Beginner" "Advanced", and "Expert". The "Beginner" section contains ten levels, the "Advanced" group contains thirty, and the "Expert" grouping features fifty levels. None of the levels repeat between sections, but higher difficulty settings will often contain levels that are tougher versions of levels from earlier groupings. In all cases, the player's goal is to guide the monkey through the gate at the end of the level, breaking the tape that reads "GOAL". Because players simply need to break the tape, it is possible for the monkey to enter either side of the gate. In some cases, level features additional gates to the standard Blue-colored goal. These gates are Green or Red and provide a points multiplier of x2 or x3 respectively. They also skip the player forward several levels. For example, reaching the green gate on Advanced level 18 will promote the player to level 21 while entering the red gate will jump the player to level 25.
If the player falls off of the stage, they will lose one life and restart on the current level. If a player loses three lives, they must use a continue if they wish to keep playing. In the home version of SMB, first time players have 3 continues in the single player. More continues are earned by for future playthroughs by attaining "play points" which are awarded for playing through the Main Game in single-player mode.
The game encourages players to both run the levels quickly and avoid death. Levels are timed in seconds, and a clock at the top of the screen counts down as the player navigates the level. It is possible to run out of time on a stage, and this results in a loss of one life. At the same time, completing a level with over half of the allotted time on the clock awards the player a "Time Bonus" that doubles the score received on the stage. In many cases, running the level along the most obvious path will take too much time for a player to earn the "Time Bonus". In these cases, players must attempt risky maneuvers, such as rolling over gaps or off of ledges to create shortcuts.
By playing through either the "Beginner" or "Advanced" modes without losing a life, players gain access to extra stages that are considerably more difficult than the levels that preceded them. There are three extra stages for "Beginner" and five for "Advanced". To access the ten "Expert" extra stages, players need only beat all fifty levels without using a continue. If a player completes the "Expert" extra stages without using a continue, a new difficulty level opens up. This "Master" difficulty level contains ten levels with no extra stages.
Bananas are the lone collectible in Super Monkey Ball's Main Game, and they award the player extra lives as well as points. There are single bananas strewn throughout levels, as well as bunches that are worth ten single bananas. If a player gets 100 bananas they are awarded an extra life. In every difficulty level (excluding "Master") there are periodic "Bonus" stages which contain fifty bananas. These levels end either when the time limit expires or the player collects all the bananas. Even if the time runs out on a bonus stage, the player will not lose a life.
These are extra little games that can be played by up to four people.
In Monkey Race, the players race around the track collecting power-ups and trying to avoid attacks from other players. In the same vein as games such as Mario Kart, these power-ups are used to improve the player's chances of winning by turning other players into ice cubes or hexagon-like shapes, shooting bombs, laying bananas, boost, and shooting missiles. There are 6 tracks in total with 2 in each category - Easy, Medium and Hard.
Ever wanted to pit four monkeys against each other in a brawl? In Monkey Fight the players each take control of a monkey with a boxing glove attached to its ball. The boxing glove is used to punch other monkeys off of the stage. There are different power-ups available for the monkeys which include larger boxing gloves, greater length boxing glove punches and an replacement spinning boxing glove attack. There are 3 different stages available for the game mode.
In Monkey Target, the player begins at the top of a large ramp (similar to an Olympic ski-jump) set out in the ocean. There are platforms in the water in front of the ramp, and these platforms are covered with colored sections that correspond to various point values. A player rolls their monkey down the ramp and presses "A" to open their ball once they have been flung into the air. This allows them to glide over the various targets until they choose to press "A" again, closing the ball. Once the ball is closed, the monkey will drop, though it is affected by the momentum and direction of the glide that existed prior the the closing. It is impossible to reopen the ball once it has been closed, and they player has no control over the monkey after they hit "A". A player receives the point value listed on the platform where the ball stops. If the monkey falls into the water, the player forfeits that turn.
This mode is played in rounds, and a single person plays at any one time. The default setting for this mode is 10 rounds, but this can be altered to a player's liking. There are three platform layouts in this mode, and they cycle in order throughout the rounds. This means that in a traditional ten round game, each map gets played three times before a final round on the first level.
Despite a lack of variation in the targets themselves, each turn presents a new challenge to the player due to randomly generated wind speed and direction which can affect the monkey's movement either in the air or on the ground. Additionally, there is a "Wheel of Danger" which can be toggled on or off. The Wheel appears before each player's individual turn and spins until the player stops it. the wheel can introduce hazards such as fog that decreases visibility, airborne mines that explode when touched, or bombs that rest on the target surfaces.
There are bananas in Monkey Target, but they serve a different purpose than in the main game. While Bananas still award points (10 for regular bananas 20 for bunches), they are mainly for gathering power ups. The power ups available are listed on the right corner of the screen and ascend in order as follows: No Wind, Sticky Ball (which slows ball's roll after impact), x2 (which doubles the point value of targets, Magnet Ball (which stops the ball wherever it lands regardless of physics), and x3 (which triples the value of targets). By gathering bananas a player moves up this list (either a single banana or a bunch moves the player one item up), and it is possible to gather enough bananas that they cycle back from x3 to No Wind.
These are like the party games, but they must be bought for 2500 points apiece. Points are earned playing the main game.
Monkey Billiards is a nine-ball pool game. The game physics and shooting modes are similar to Bankshot Billiards.
There are two modes, normal and challenge. Normal mode is a standard game of bowling. Challenge mode gives the player 12 throws to knock down all of the pins in 10 different formations. In bowling, each character has its own strengths and weaknesses. AiAi is all-round. MeeMee has the best curve. GonGon has the fastest bowl. Baby's bowls are the easiest to aim.
Monkey Golf is a miniature golf game with 18 holes. It includes multiple clubs, and viewing modes.