Super Monkey Ball had been rolling strong during the early days of the GameCube with two stellar titles. However, later releases never managed to capture the magic of the first two games. One in particular is Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz. A Wii launch title that heavily relied on motion controls. In fact, it relied so much that due to the imprecision, the game proved too tough to control. 13 years later, Sega surprisingly announced an HD remake of the old title, now with proper analog controls. It may fix one of the biggest issues of the original game, but it still remains one of the series’ weakest titles.
The goal of the single player campaign is simple: roll a monkey inside a ball to the end of a stage. This is done not by controlling the monkey itself, but by tilting the stage, similar to a table maze. Each stage is fraught with moving platforms and other obstacles to spice up the action.
While the 80+ stages can provide unique challenges, they definitely feel inferior to past entries. More than often, players must wait a ridiculous amount of time for a platform to arrive. Terrain is also harder to traverse, with rails that have indistinguishable slopes. There’s a lack of cohesion in the design, and falling out is abundant even with the better controls. Mastering the controls is essential to achieve victory, especially with the controversial mechanic of jumping.
Banana Blitz was the first (and only) Super Monkey Ball title that allowed the character to jump. It definitely feels odd since the controls manipulate the stage and not the character, so it can be disorienting at times. This ability doesn’t lend itself to creative puzzle designs either. The pyramid world, for example, features segments where players must jump on a flight of stairs one step at a time. It’s slow, monotonous, and breaks the pace of the game.
Another bizarre addition to Banana Blitz are the boss battles, and it’s as baffling as it sounds. Each baddie has a glowing weak spot that must be hit multiple times. Not only does it not mesh well with the puzzle-centric gameplay, but it’s frustrating too. Bosses often shove the monkey off the tiny arena without much effort. The final boss in particular has an erratic pattern that causes a ring out even before his big attack. The worst offender, however, is the camera. Considering how close the camera is, it’s hard to measure distance to the boss. Bosses that move constantly also mean the camera shifts, thus causing disorientation.
Sadly, the camera issue affects the main gameplay as well. The camera will place itself behind the monkey, but can be finicky when sharp turns need to be made. For example, to jump to the left, the camera points away from the rail, meaning it’s hard to jump on it. The smaller the platform is, the harder it is to align the camera towards the next destination. There isn’t any replay option either, so it’s hard to rewatch any mistakes nor saving miraculous victories.
Each monkey in the game has its own stats. For example Yan-Yan can jump the highest while the Professor is the fastest. Beating stages can unlock costumes as well as a guest appearance by Sonic the Hedeghog. Sonic has the best stats, but even with his inclusion, it doesn’t make the stages a cakewalk.
While the original Banana Blitz had 50 mini-games to choose from, the HD release only has 10. The ones included range from okay to below average. One of the returning mini-games is “Monkey Target”. The idea is simple: use a monkey’s ball as a parachute to collect floating bananas and land on a giant target. While previous iterations had more to them, this is arguably the finest game in the collection.
The rest of the mini-games fair much worse. Whack-a-mole ends quickly, the Slingshot mini-game aiming doesn’t have a cursor, and the shoot’em’up game is fraught with unavoidable bullets. It can be fun to play with three more players, but the limited amount of party games, regardless of their quality, means the fun is short lived.
There are some new modes added to this version to accommodate for the exclusions. Decathlonmode is a marathon of all the 10 mini-games for a single player. The goal with the decathlon is to score as many points as possible. Unfortunately the rotation of the mini-games remains the same each time, causing it to lose steam quickly. Time Attack is there for those who want to see how much time they can finish the stages in a succession.
Visually, the game looks cleaner than the original Wii release, as it should. While the stages and characters look nice, backgrounds are rather barren without much going on. The soundtrack is also different than the original release, as some songs needed to be replaced. Thankfully, even the new songs are enjoyable, making it the best element of the game.
I deeply appreciate Sega reviving Super Monkey Ball, being a fan of the first two titles. However, it makes me wonder why Banana Blitz got the remake treatment instead? The uninspired puzzles, annoying camera, superfluous mechanics and mini-game selection mar the experience. It definitely controls better than the original game, but when the foundation was rocky to begin with, there wasn’t much that Sega could’ve done to save this one.