When I heard that Super Monkey Ball was being remastered for modern consoles, I was so happy. I have fond memories of playing the original two games on the Nintendo Gamecube many years ago, so I was hoping they would be the chosen ones which got the remaster treatment. Unfortunately, the game SEGA chose to remaster was Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz, a Nintendo Wii exclusive from 2006, a game which I have no nostalgia or knowledge of.
Strangely enough, although SEGA published this title, development was actually done by Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio, the incredible team behind the Yakuza series (since Yakuza 5), Fist of the North Star, and the more recent Judgment. I would say that I never saw that coming but with the amount of old SEGA games they’ve incorporated into the Yakuza series and Judgment, it was only a matter of time until they got put in charge of remastering an old classic franchise in my opinion.
So, with no knowledge of this game and a fond memory of the fun times I had playing the original game when I was younger, will I also have an inherited nostalgia for this game also? I mean, it’s Super Monkey Ball, it can’t be that different, right…
Before I go into the various modes on offer within this delightfully fun remaster, just what is Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD?
If you’ve not played any Super Monkey Ball games before, it’s a physics-based game in which you have to manoeuvre yourself through some rather precariously designed mazes whilst you’re inside of a Zorb-like orb (or a transparent Pokeball depending on how you view it). It’s all about momentum, speed, accuracy, and remaining in control of your orb, something which is almost impossible in certain levels (which I’ll come to later). The vast majority of the maze tracks don’t have barriers on the side or safety walls to keep you in place, so going fast down a bobsled-like run, in a progressively getting faster orb, can result in you going over the edge if you’re not too careful.
Scattered around the world are bananas, both in bunches and on their own. Collecting enough of these will result in you getting an extra life although the bunches are usually placed in areas you may actually die trying to grab them so you have to weigh up if it’s worth the risk. Later levels also introduce more hazards such as enemies, wind-creating beasts, moving platforms, and pinball bumpers. Previously, on the Wii, this game required you to use the Wii-mote, with its motion controls, to carefully move around without falling to your death into the great endless abyss below. However, this new remaster has scrapped the motion controls and opted for a more convenient and user-friendly Thumbstick control method.
Oh, Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD is also the first (and only) game in which you can jump. A mechanic which, surprisingly, makes the game even more difficult at times due to the fact a lot of stages have been created around being able to jump in the air.
Today’s unpopular opinion: Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD should offer motion controls on the PS4 and Nintendo Switch – the Xbox One controller stupidly doesn’t have any motion controls. Although the game has one of the simplest control schemes you’ll see, move with the Left Thumbstick and jump with Cross, the game is beyond frustrating, to say the least. The problem is, the camera wobbles all over the place as you push left or right, and it only pulls out to show you what’s in front of you once you stop pushing forward (although you want to know where you’re going whilst pushing forward, the angle is too obstructed). As such, this quickly became a frustrating and annoying experience until I’d got used to it after a few hours… or so I thought.
So, now you know what Super Monkey Ball is, in general, what can you expect from Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD? There are three modes to pick between in the game, these are:
This is where you’ll spend the majority of your time in Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD, or at least initially whilst you get used to the nauseating controls (seriously, if we could turn off the camera wobble, that would be great). The main game is your classic Super Monkey Ball action, take control of AiAi, MeeMee, Baby, GonGon, YanYan, or Doctor as you work through eight worlds, each with eight stages, a few bonus stages, and a final boss. That’s right, this game has boss battles for you to try and ‘fight’…
Initially, I really enjoyed this mode as there was plenty of replayability and a few decent challenges. The first time you complete a world you get a silver medal, if you complete it all without using a continue (making collecting the bananas to top up your lives a requirement) then you get a ‘Champion’ medal. These may only seem like virtual rewards but they are also linked to trophies if you’re going for the platinum. There’s also a lot of visual variety within the different worlds, some based around bold green forests, ocean blue, yellow deserts, and more. The challenge of beating all stages whilst fighting the dodgy camera is also increased as levels become more advanced and meticulous the further into the game you get, with paths becoming smaller and the risk of death greatly increased.
However, my main complaint/dislike is with the bosses. I really didn’t see these coming as I wasn’t aware Super Monkey Ball games had ‘bosses’ in them. Each world ends with a giant ‘thing’ for you to battle against, having to both learn its pattern and adapt accordingly. Whereas most of them are quite easy, requiring you to simply avoid their attacks and attempts to push you out of the stage, then run in and boop them on the head, others are a little more advanced. The one I always have an issue with is a guy who floats and shoots rockets at you, which you must jump on to send them back at him. Trying to complete all eight stages AND beat the boss, without losing all your lives for the Champion medal, can be a pain.
So, if you’ve completed the Main Game and want to test your skills and see just how fast you are – you’re in luck. There are three Time Attack modes, Casual, Standard and Expert.
• The Casual one times you as you try to complete all eight stages and the boss in the first world as your chosen monkey, aiming to get your name and score on the worldwide leaderboard.
• Standard one-ups that by forcing you to complete the first five worlds (forty levels and five bosses) without using up a continue.
• Finally, the Expert option (which I’ve not unlocked yet) will presumably require you to complete all eight worlds (64 stages and eight bosses) on one continue!
Now, the saving grace here is that any extra lives you obtain will roll (ha) into the next world with you. So, if you stock up on bananas in the first four worlds, where the stages and bosses aren’t too difficult, then the lives you’ve gained will remain as you move into stage five and beyond. However, it’s still a pretty intense Time Attack mode. When I first played this mode, I thought it would be your standard ‘complete each world as fast as you can’, not ‘complete multiple worlds in sequence’.
So, if you think you’re the king of Super Monkey Ball and you want to prove it, see if you can hit the top of the worldwide leaderboards for all three modes!
Party games and Decathlon mode
After reading the Wiki for Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD, I realised that there’s a lot of cut content. Other than the changed music, for licensing reasons, there are a few missing mini-games from the Party Games mode. Wait, did I say a few? Make that forty, yes the big four zero, missing mini-games! This leaves the remaster with a selection of the ten most popular (and modern console friendly) games to play within this mode. Seriously, I believe the Xbox One held back content on the Switch and PS4 as the mini-games were originally created for motion controls and due to the Xbox lacking this feature, all of those had to clearly be stripped out to make it playable on the Xbox console.
Anyway, up to four players can join in, locally, as you play one of the following ten games:
• Seesaw Ball
• Space Monkey Attack
• Dangerous Route
• Hurdle Race
• Hammer Throw
• Hovercraft Race
• Monkey Snowboard
• Monkey Target
Each party game has a trophy assigned to obtaining a certain amount of points in it and all but one of them allow four players to play at the same time, the final one, Hammer Throw, has you all take it in turns to toss your hammer as hard as you can. The games themselves aren’t bad – except for Dangerous Route, which I hate with a passion, I just wished there was more of them along with an option to create custom playlists for friends and family to compete against each other. Having only ten means you’ll have played through them all within less than an hour. If they were removed because of the lack of the Xbox’s motion controls, I would love it if the removed ones could be put into the PS4 and Switch versions, along with the option for motion controls in the main game.
The Decathlon mode basically allows a single player to play through all ten games one after another to try and obtain the biggest score possible. This is a fun mode but it’s a shame it’s for a single-player only, rather than letting you group up with friends. The reason for this is, just like the Time Attack mode, your final score goes onto the worldwide leaderboards.
Despite the removal of both motion controls and forty party games, there are a few bonus features that are still present and one which is new to the game. First of all, although there are eight worlds to play through in the Main Game, you can unlock both world nine and world ten by obtaining eight and nine Champion medals respectively. This was also a feature on the original Wii version and I’m glad it’s one which has returned in this game, giving you more levels to work through as a bonus for becoming a Super Monkey Ball master!
Secondly, you can unlock new skins for our six loveable characters as you obtain Champion medals within the Main Game. These don’t do anything other than altering the way the characters look, but it’s nice to have a choice between how your favourite monkey looks from time to time. However, there is one secret character – well, it’s a secret if you’ve not seen all the advertising for this game…
Sonic the Hedgehog has entered the game! Once you’ve completed all of the original eight stages (simply beat, no need to push for the Champion medal), you’ll gain access to our spiked speedster. Not only is it fun rolling around as the blue hedgehog but the bananas are replaced for the more iconic coins, along with their memorable sound effects, and some of the music in the game gets changed to his theme as well. Thankfully, the developers have modelled him off the video game version and not the ‘questionable’ movie adaptation…
Visually, Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD looks about as good as you’d expect for a remaster. The menus, the characters, the mazes, and the overall presentation is all top-notch. I really can’t falter the cartoony, bright, bold aesthetic which is on show here, it all looks great, even if it is only a touch up of a Wii game. My only issue with the visuals comes from my issue with the controls – the camera wobble. Now, I know all Super Monkey Ball games have camera wobble as it’s pretty much part of the mechanics, but it feels too excessive and borderline nauseating and off-putting at times. I’d love an option to lock the camera to the floor’s perspective to allow for more precise movements and lining up of trickier manoeuvres.
Whilst on the subject, even without the wobble, the controls don’t feel right. Sure, it’s been moved over from a Wii game with motion controls (which they should have kept, damn Xbox and PC), but I remember the Gamecube and other standard controller games being easier to control and operate. Maybe I’ll have to fiddle with the in-game sensitivity until I find a setting I’m more happy with?
Sound-wise, I can’t really think of anything negative with the audio. Sure, it’s a new set of music due to licensing issues but I have no nostalgia for the original game, so I have nothing to compare it to. Everything is very upbeat and happy, putting you in the mood for playing with your Monkey Balls all night long!
Although there are a few aspects I didn’t like, Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD was a fun game to play for the first time. I’m not the biggest fan of the controls, as the wobble-camera made things a little confusing and frustratingly more difficult that it had to be, but the nostalgic gameplay left me with a smile – when I wasn’t shouting due to an unfair death or tumble. The Time Attack and Decathlon modes will keep you busy if going for the platinum, and allows you to prove you really do have the best handle on your Monkey Balls! The party games are a nice bonus but considering forty of them were removed, I wouldn’t consider this a multiplayer game anymore, you’ll get the most entertainment out of playing it on your own.
Sonic the Hedgehog is a great unlock, which changes the feeling of the game in many ways, as are worlds nine and ten which are still unlockable within this remaster in the same way as they were many years ago. However, I personally found Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD quite tricky but I’ll soldier on and see if I can somehow obtain the platinum. I just need to become more accustomed to the controls on the more difficult and challenging stages.
Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD£34.99
- - Very colourful and looks great (for a remaster)
- - Lots of stages to work through, including two hidden worlds and bonus stages)
- - You can play as Sonic the Hedgehog which changes various things
- - Despite being difficult, the Time Attack mode enhances gameplay and the longevity of the game
- - The Decathlon mode is fun to play as you aim to appear on the leaderboards
- - The controls feel 'off' a little. This is most likely due tot eh conversion from motion controls to standard controls
- - The camera wobble is too much and made me a little dizzy at times
- - The bosses can be rather brutal later on into the game, resulting in some unfair deaths (in my opinion)
- - Forty party games have been stripped out, leaving only ten. The ones left are fun but I'd no longer class this as a social game, it's more a single player experience with a small multiplayer component