I remember the day I was introduced to Super Monkey Ball on GameCube. It kind of came out of nowhere: someone shoved it in front of me and said “let’s play.” Eight hours later we were completely entranced, and most importantly, smiling. That’s the sort of infectious happiness Monkey Ball is capable of, which is exactly why this underdog of a series was active for over a decade before slowing down.
Sega is looking to get that ball rolling again with Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD. It’s a shame that this re-release wasn’t able to put its best foot forward with the ideal source material, but Monkey Ball remains as charming as ever.
Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD (PC, PS4, Switch [reviewed], Xbox One)
Developer: Sega / RGG Studio
Released: October 29, 2019
I’m happy to see Monkey Ball back in any form, and hope Sega keeps this series alive. The gist: Marble Madness meets monkeys, with more speed. How can anyone not love that premise?
It’s beauty through simplicity. You roll around pre-build courses avoiding hazards, trying not to roll off the course, collecting bananas and reaching a goal line. A life system and banana points dictate how well you’re doing, with an equal emphasis on speed and pickup accuracy. Every so often you’ll face down a boss (a few of which are mere formalities) and bonk a weak point.
The formula, much like the “HD” bit of the moniker, hasn’t been too touched-up. I went back and looked at the GameCube edition for comparison, and while you can easily tell the difference between the original release and the modern day version (mostly color saturation), a lot of the same issues bleed through, like halfhearted cutscenes and a lack of detail in the framing of the campaign and the UI. Simple gameplay is one thing, simplicity everywhere else can be draining.
The main focus here is the 100-level campaign, which is all solo and connected with the aforementioned tenuous (well, it doesn’t really exist) story. In case you didn’t get the idea yet the courses are set up a lot like mini golf, you just have full control over how the ball moves (with analog sticks this time, no motion controls, for better or worse), and instead of a windmill there might be dastardly giant prehistoric birds blocking your path.
The campaign is fun enough and keeps things moving at a rapid pace, but I would have liked to have seen full co-op added here, even pass and play. The root of the problem? Banana Blitz simply isn’t the best iteration of the series for a grand re-entrance. Super Monkey Ball Deluxe would have been a far better choice for an HD re-release, sporting more base levels, 240 challenge stages with full multiplayer support, plus more party games.
Sega really stuck to their guns here as this is not a full remake with new modes, but rather an HD-re-release of the Wii game, as advertised. The only real multiplayer component is found within the party mode, which has 10 games, with nine of them supporting simultaneous four-player play. Sadly this setup strikes out again with a lack of bots, and there’s no online multiplayer: only same-Switch and local support. You can play solo in time attack or party mode for high scores (and the new Decathlon mode that features all 10 party games in a row), but again, without bots.
As a return effort the core of Super Monkey Ball is there with Banana Blitz HD, it’ll just be hard to turn people onto it unless you’re going in with a solo mindset. If you haven’t ever experienced monkeys in balls before and plan on coming in as a rogue agent, that budget pricing helps.
[This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.]