Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD
Playstation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC version coming Winter 2019)
Back in my youth, Super Monkey Ball and Super Monkey Ball 2 for the Gamecube were my jam. Cute monkeys in giant plastic (or glass?) balls rolling around levels collecting bananas? What’s not to love? Super Monkey Ball was a bright and light-hearted experience that was fun alone and with friends in the multiplayer modes. I’ll admit that I never played any of the iterations past 2, including the original Banana Blitz game on the Wii, but when I heard about the HD remaster my heart swelled with nostalgia. SEGA has been coming back strong as of late with Sonic Mania and the Yakuza franchise’s revitalization. Surely, Banana Blitz HD will receive the same love and care, right?
Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD is the first game in the series since the Gamecube era to use the analog stick as the means of control. For me, this feels like a return home as the game plays almost exactly how I remember it. They did include the addition of a jump button to give your monkeys one extra movement option, but overall the gameplay feels more or less exactly the same as the original editions. This is both a positive and a negative; Super Monkey Ball really shines when your monkey is hitting breakneck speeds flying down a track collecting bananas and praying they don’t fly off the map and these sections of the game are a ton of fun. However, for every one of these moments, there’s frustration abound. Monkey Ball’s controls have always been about rotating the map itself rather than the monkey. When you tilt the stick, the entire track moves along with the camera. While this mechanic is interesting, the lack of a separate stick to control the camera makes for a lot of annoying moments where you want to see something but you have to reposition your monkey just the right way. Being that you don’t control your monkey directly, precise movements can become a challenge. The game does look graphically updated from its Wii original version, but it still feels like it’s a generation behind. Everything looks bright and colorful but blocky and dated. It oftentimes feels like watching a DVD on a 4K screen; the TV’s definition pulls out all the flaws.
In Banana Blitz, each monkey has its own stats, which makes for more variety in gameplay. From speed to jump to controlling, each monkey plays a little differently so there is some replayability value in all the stages even once you collect all the bananas and badges associated with each map. There are six different monkeys to choose from, as well as Sonic the Hedgehog being a new addition for the HD remake. Putting Sonic in any game earns a point from me any day, and his speed does make for some wild fun on certain levels.
Banana Blitz‘s single-player mode boasts 100 maps, and all of these are fairly enjoyable if not a little too easy (at least for the first half of the game). Every 10 levels you run into a boss battle, and these are easily the weakest parts of the game. Boss battles just don’t work well in a game like this where you don’t have a full range of motion at all times. There was a boss early on that took me an upsettingly long time because of how the camera locks on bosses while you fight them, but because this particular boss is constantly flying around the stage I would lose track of my monkey and roll off the edge.
Banana Blitz‘s multiplayer mode offers 10 different minigames, and while the multiplayer isn’t all that impressive it’s hard not to have a good time when playing with friends (like most games). Pitting your monkeys head-to-head in a race or a battle against up to 3 other players will provide you with even more entertainment once you’ve exhausted the single-player options.
Overall, Banana Blitz HD shows me that SEGA could revitalize the Super Monkey Ball franchise, but if they really want it to succeed going forward they’re going to have to make some more changes. Get back to the drawing board, AiAi. You’ve still got some work to do.
Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD
Super Monkey Ball comes to current-gen consoles and brings all its outdated mechanics with it.