Two years ago I reviewed a remake of Super Monkey Ball Banana Blitz and while it was decent it lost some of what made the original a classic. Now I have another Super Monkey Ball remake to give my thoughts on. Banana Mania is a mix of the original three games and features over 300 levels. While that sounds impressive I was not holding out much hope for yet another remake. I am glad to report, however, that Sega development team Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio have done a much better job this time around. As a big fan of the series I am quite desperate for an actual new release but this new re-imagining will suffice for now as it is lots of fun.
For anyone not familiar with the series its premise is simple. Guide your monkey, who is encased in a ball, to the end of the course. Sounds like a children’s game with little challenge, but add in the traps, cliff edges and a host of other obstacles and you soon see the simple mechanics are hindered by scream inducing difficulty. And scream you will! Super Monkey Ball is hard, very hard. What starts out as an easy learning curve just hits vertical about half way through the main game. You will retry, retry and retry again on some levels. There is a bit of luck to proceedings but you will also need to hone every video game skill you can muster to succeed.
The main mode in Banana Mania is the huge story mode. It is similar to the original story mode found in Super Monkey Ball 2. It was disappointing to see that the fun animated cutscenes had been replaced with comic book style images. Not that there is much to the story but Dr Bad-Boon has stolen all the bananas from Monkey Island and you must get them back. The worlds are broken down into ten stages for each world with a little more of the story in-between. You can choose from a number of characters to play as but they are all the same and it is simply an aesthetic choice. I found that the main story mode was quite easy until about the fourth set of levels.
Although it is an unforgiving game, Super Monkey Ball is also fun. It has a charm about it that fuels you want to keep going. We live in an age of rewinds and constant save points so having a true challenge is refreshing. It is a classic case of easy to pick up but hard to master. There is also great variety in the puzzles and level layouts so it does not feel repetitive. This is helped by each set of ten levels having a completely different theme. From simple jungles to washing machines, the backgrounds keep the visuals fresh. Having the different worlds also creates a natural break in the gameplay. Super Monkey Ball is addictive; you just want to beat the level. I found myself saying ‘just one more go’ on so many occasions.
Graphically, Super Monkey Ball oozes Sega, the colours, the chunky characters, the crazy backgrounds. Everything about it jumps out of the screen and entices you to play. The monkeys look great and there are plenty of costumes to unlock as you go. Each level has a variety of blocks, ramps and obstacles all with a unique look depending on the level. There is the inevitable repetition that sets in on occasion but considering the amount of levels on offer each stage feels fresh. The music bumps along with a real arcade feel as well, the tempo is just right for the style of game. Overall the presentation is a huge draw for Super Monkey Ball, it is beautiful at times but functional where it needs to be.
This new package features a lot of content to compliment the main story. The already mentioned 300 stages but a whole catalogue of new modes, mirrored courses, minigames and lots of costumes for your chosen primate. Many of these additional features are unlocked by gaining points on the main stages then spent in the shop. Two standout extras are the Monkey Target and Monkey Bowling games. They are just so much fun, especially with friends. For some, the extra modes will just feel like fillers to pad out a game we have already played. But to fans of the series it will bring a lot of fresh gameplay and new ways to enjoy the original games. There is hours upon hours of play on offer here.
Banana Mania is not perfect, however. There were times when the physics engine, that is reused from Banana Blitz, looses its traction. It is hard to pinpoint exactly what it is missing but this remaster does feel different to the tactile effortlessness of the originals. Although it isn’t enough to effect the fun and overall gameplay, it takes a little getting used to. There were a few moments where I felt the game was being unfair, but really I just needed to get better. The other negative is within the menus. Being that there is so much content it felt, at times, I was simply scrolling through lists of words looking for a certain level or mode.
There is a lot to love about Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania. The large amount of levels and extras makes it great value for the price. If you’re a fan of Super Monkey Ball and want the convenience of playing the originals on new hardware then this is a must purchase. If you have never played a Super Monkey Ball game then you could do far worse then starting here. If you have already played it first time round and were not blown away then you may be not find anything here to grab you. What is without question though, is that Super Monkey Ball has been reborn and that it is as good as it ever was.
Thank you Sega for sending the Switch game for review. Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania is also available on PlayStation, Xbox and Steam. Please also sign up for the Super Monkey Ball newsletter on the official website to keep up to date with new DLC.