In the age of the remaster and re-release there’s more than enough reason to bring back SEGA
’s classic Super Monkey Ball
series. In fact, no new Monkey Ball action is something we’ve been missing out on for many a year now. From the simple and intuitive controls to the bright visuals to the positive simian vibe, there’s a timeless quality to tilting the stage and letting the monkey balls roll where they may.
Something that was referenced way back when the first Super Monkey Ball made its home console debut on the Nintendo GameCube
in 2001. Back then, old timers would refer to it as a spiritual successor of sorts to Marble Madness
from the 8-bit NES
era. An instant classic was born.
Tilt the world, avoid obstacles, collect bananas, and reach the goal. Simplicity that gradually became challenging, with new stages introducing multiple paths, shortcuts, and level design that tested your finger dexterity in ways that not many other games could. And because it’s SEGA, there was also a suite of mini-games as part of a robust multiplayer party mode that you could dip into when friends and family came for a visit. Monkey Target, some drinks, night sorted.
“... no new Monkey Ball action is something we’ve been missing out on for many a year now.”
Super Monkey Ball Banana Blitz HD
contains all these elements but is presented in a package marred by some questionable design decisions. That all point to its somewhat troubled origin story.
The original 2006 release of Banana Blitz meant that it was a game designed and built for the Nintendo Wii
. Of wiggle, waggle, motion control fame. As the world was swept up in the Wii Sports
craze of the mid-naughties, Nintendo fans who Monkey Balled on the Cube were genuinely excited at the prospect of getting to play Super Monkey Ball with full motion controls. Holding the Wii Remote in the palm of their hands as they tilted and turned and guided Aiai and co towards to the goal. On paper at least, it sounded like a natural evolution for the series. It wasn’t.
The result wasn’t terrible but like with all things motion control; moving the stuff on the screen was spotty at best. For a series that lived and breathed precision, this was not ideal. Also, as Super Monkey Ball had already seen its formula perfected in the excellent Super Monkey Ball 2
the development team at SEGA’s Amusement Vision
also felt it was time to experiment and merge Super Monkey Ball with a traditional 2D or 3D platformer. Jungle worlds, ice worlds, lava lands, jumping, boss battles, and platforming.
This in turn led to a different feel that transcended the motion controls of the Wii original. As Banana Blitz HD reverts things back to the ways of old and does a great job of reinstating classic controller support, it does so with a, well, failed experiment of a game.
“As Banana Blitz HD reverts things back to the ways of old and does a great job of reinstating classic controller support, it does so with a, well, failed experiment of a game.”
Being able to jump in Super Monkey Ball feels off, and the less said about the boss battles the better. They’re not fun and rely on traditional platformer mechanics in a game that was built on the opposite of that. The transition from the easier levels to the harder ones is also handled poorly with early stages being designed for those coming to terms with motion controls as opposed to traditional controls. That said when the difficulty ramps up, Super Monkey Ball Banana Blitz HD is challenging and at times captures the spirit of what made the series so likable in the first place. But even here stage progression can be cheesed by simply jumping around. Like a crazed monkey trapped in a ball.
Fitting sure, but disappointing none the less.
This is a strange release, as clearly some effort has gone into the Super Monkey Ball Banana Blitz high-def remaster. The long-list of poorly implemented motion control minigames from the original Wii release have been culled to a more manageable and playable level (that said, Monkey Target returns in its weakest form to date), and the widescreen HD visuals are crisp and as vibrant as the catchy soundtrack. Loading times are almost instantaneous too, so you can breeze through each stage without interruption. Even on the old-timey platter drives found in modern consoles. Great work aside, it all feels like time wasted.
Perhaps if SEGA chose to remaster and re-release the first two GameCube titles, which defined and perfected the core Super Monkey Ball formula - before it’s slow dive into obscurity thanks to Banana Blitz and other titles - we’d be hailing this as a minor masterpiece. Instead what we’ve got here is a HD misfire of a motion-control misfire from over a decade ago.