Video Game Review: Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD
Super Monkey Ball, now with high-definition monkeys!!
It’s been almost 13 years since Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz released as a launch title for the Nintendo Wii. The series has seen numerous releases since then but nothing for a traditional gaming platform since 2012’s Banana Splitz on the PlayStation Vita. Now, SEGA thinks the climate is right to dust off its mischievous primates for another run on modern consoles with Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD.
Originally designed with the motion-based WiiMotes in mind, Banana Blitz lacks the challenge of earlier Monkey Ball games as the difficulty doesn’t really pick up until the later stages. Also, the game contains a jump button, which was likely a concession to the added difficulty of trying to navigate with motion controls, but feels out of place in a game based on momentum. It’s worth noting that SEGA has made this version playable exclusively via the analog sticks.
Our biggest complaint, however, is the camera, which remains locked in place as you try to move around these winding levels, often to your detriment. It felt incredibly outdated to not have the option to swing the camera around for a cleaner look or more subtle adjustments, and the constant motion of the screen was borderline stomach turning after a while — it’s worse in handheld mode. There are also some mini-games that offer different setups, all of which at least control adequately.
Some games from the Wii era undoubtedly hold up better than others based primarily on how cleverly designed and colourful they were; conversely, games that strove for realism have aged more poorly. While Banana Blitz falls into the former category, the HD treatment doesn’t make for a good-looking game by any modern standard.
Levels are very basic with few elements in the foreground and simplistic backgrounds, populated by rudimentary objects and bananas. At least the monkeys are cute.
Your time in game is accompanied by up-tempo tunes aimed at encouraging you to keep moving forward and finish as quickly as possible. It’s fine for what it is, whereas the menu music is pretty much bonkers. SUPER MONKEY BALL!!! (hums crazily)
A nefarious pirate has swooped in and stolen the golden banana bunch, leaving AiAi and his fellow monkey buddies to find the scattered pieces. There are eight main stages, each of which contains eight standard levels, a bonus level and a boss fight. Completing the first eight now unlocks the two additional stages, bringing the total to 100 levels.
As noted, Banana Blitz lacks the challenge of earlier titles, particularly across the first three or four worlds, which make liberal use of guard rails to keep you on track. Even if you’re wholly unfamiliar with the series you should clear them in short order. It ramps up quite a bit around the sixth stage, and the two unlockable ones are legitimately tough. It just feels like it takes too long to get to the challenging part.
Boss fights also land firmly in the negative column. They don’t handle like anything else you do in the game, and the battles often feel laborious as you circle around, waiting for the boss to expose some massive weak spot, score a hit and then back to waiting. There’s nothing truly bad here, but the reality is Banana Blitz was never the series’ high point, and the years haven’t been overly kind.
In addition to the main game there’s also a collection of mini games created for multiple players. While the original release had 50 such options, that selection has been mercifully pared down to 10, abandoning the quality over quantity approach. That’s more of a theoretical change, unfortunately, as even among the 10 there are few worth your time with several abandoning the ball entirely and not feeling in any way connected to the main game.
Although it’s nice to see Super Monkey Ball make a comeback, Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD is not putting the series’ best foot forward. Still, it’s decent enough, and some of the lower-difficulty lower levels could make it more accessible to younger gamers.