Normally you’ll find me using a little anecdote to introduce the game in question, but with Super Monkey Ball, there are so many interesting facts that I haven’t been able to nail down just the one. So with that in mind, here are my two favourite Super Monkey Ball facts: Toshihiro Nagoshi, the creator of Super Monkey Ball, is also one of the main producers and directors of the Yakuza series, and strangely, the original Super Monkey Ball game was the first SEGA published game on a Nintendo console. So there we go, some context to the rest of my review.
Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD is an enhanced version of the 2006 Wii version, and is the first Super Monkey Ball title to hit Xbox since Deluxe on the original Xbox way back in 2005. When news started circulating of a potential new Super Monkey Ball game, this would not have been the first choice for many fans, mainly as upon original release, Banana Blitz received mixed reviews. These however were primarily focused on the Wii Remote making the game unnecessarily difficult. With that gone, this HD remake fares much better, yet the difficulty still remains.
Super Monkey Ball games are usually split into two main sections: The single-player main game, and the vast selection of multiplayer minigames. Banana Blitz is no different, though this remake has dramatically reduced the number of minigames down to just ten from over 50 in the original release.
The single-player portion is largely unchanged from when the series debuted. Contrary to popular belief, Super Monkey Ball has players move the world to cause the ball to move, rather than simply control the ball itself. Players do this to get the monkey in the ball from one end of the level to the other, similar to Marble Madness or Kula World. There is a time limit in place – usually around 60 seconds but can be longer or shorter – while collecting 20 bananas across the levels grants an extra life.
The main game is split into eight worlds – with two bonus worlds to unlock – and ten levels in each: eight standard, a bonus stage and a final boss stage. Each world has two medals to go for. The first one is for simply completing all the levels and progressing to the next world. Then, the Champion Medal is rewarded for completing all without using a continue – from which you have the option of choosing whether to use one or not if all your lives are lost. Banana Blitz will lull you into a false sense of security with the first few worlds, but later worlds are punishing and earning a Champion Medal on them is a true test. Don’t let these cutesy graphics lead you astray!
The boss levels are new to the series – at least when this originally released – but they aren’t the best addition. Each boss will have a weak point that you need to strike – it could be on their head or another area anatomically, including the outie belly button of a particular boss. But these bosses do come across as a bit cheap and don’t quite work in a Super Monkey Ball game. Their movement patterns cannot be disrupted, so if your ball happens to be in the way of a limb or appendage expect to be slapped off the world. Further to this, there is no consistency between the bosses – in terms of number of hits in particular – like you would expect in other platformer boss levels.
The minigames in Super Monkey Ball are legendary though – previous instalments have included bowling, golf, football, baseball, tennis and boxing to name a small sample – and they’ve all worked surprisingly well. Fully fleshed out, individual minigames could rival some full releases with the amount of content they have in them. The majority of Banana Blitz’s minigames are equally as fun to play, but they do lack some of the depth of previous games.
There are ten in total, and all are unlocked from the start. Each features up to 4-player local play, whether it be hotseat or simultaneous, so are great for an evening with friends.
There are your standard race-type games, but these are done with a bit of variation. Monkey Snowboard has you racing down a slope as fast as possible, dodging obstacles as you go. Dangerous Route features gameplay similar to the single-player component of the game but with 4 balls on the track at once, and then done from a top-down perspective, while Hurdle Race has you smashing two buttons as fast as possible in a Track and Field style.
Other standout minigames include Seesaw Ball which tasks you with traveling down a vertical course of seesaws to get to the target as quickly as possible, like a plinko board. Space Monkey Attack is the Super Monkey Ball equivalent of Space Invaders and Hammer Throw is just that, but with extra monkeying around.
One massive disappointment though is Monkey Target. A classic from the annals of Super Monkey Ball, this was the one minigame I was looking forward to most. This version just doesn’t feel the same; the tweaks implemented this time around make this a far less exciting minigame than was previous. Gone is the roulette at the start of a round and even the wind factor has disappeared – this version feels like a very dumbed down one.
Other minor modes include Time Attack which pits you against the rest of the world on an online leaderboard for the best times on the single-player mode levels. There is also Decathlon mode in which you play each of the ten minigames consecutively and are awarded a score after each one which then also goes on an online leaderboard. These modes are great for those wanting to play a bit more competitively but don’t have anyone in the same room as them.
Decathlon mode isn’t the only new feature in this HD remake. Each of the characters have different outfits to unlock throughout the single-player mode, and there is even a hidden character to unlock that may or may not be the fastest hedgehog in the world – best of all is the fact that it is his classic incarnation that you can unlock, not the modern version. Playing a level as Sonic the Hedgehog also turns the bananas into rings that includes the classic ear candy whenever you collect one.
Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD has 36 achievements in total, and they present a decent challenge. There are the standard ones for completing each world and unlocking certain numbers of Champion Medals, but each minigame also has an achievement associated with them, and these can only be earned through scoring really well or getting a pretty fast time in them. They represent a healthy mix of easy and hard but you’ll do well to get anywhere near this 1000G.
It is great having Super Monkey Ball back on consoles, and like any good friendship you can jump straight back into it and feel like you’ve never been apart. When first announced, Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD on the Xbox One may not have been everyone’s first choice, but the game feels better now than it did on the Wii with the awkward motion controls disappearing. Now, we have a nice polished Super Monkey Ball game with just enough new features to get returning players back, and the hope that this is just the start of the renaissance.