It has been some time since the gaming world last saw the Super Monkey Ball series and even then it was only through handheld devices did the series continue to live over the past decade. Now Sega has revisited the series by taking the 2006 Wii release of Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz and modernizing it a bit in a remastered release that removes the motion controls that the Wii used but holds true to a number of other additions that were made back in the day. With Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD being a mix of changed features and a classic game, is it worth visiting once more?
Players are given a number of different primates to choose from, or even a certain hedgehog once unlocked, that have a variety of different stats that determine how fast they can role and how high the can jump, and then toss that monkey into a capsule that will roll through a hundred different levels spread across ten different worlds. For the most part the style of gameplay remains the same as before, roll the monkey of your choice through a hazardous stage and reach the goal without falling off too many times.
What has changed is the way the game’s controls work, for both better and worse. Rather than relying on motion controls, players now have far more precise control thanks to the use of the analog stick. Now for those unfamiliar with the series, players don’t have direct control of the monkey ball but instead are tilting the stage that it rolls on, and this analog movement can allow for some high levels of finesse when maneuvering around a difficult stage which is a real delight. Along those same lines though the return of the jumping mechanic also comes into play and feels like a double-edged sword.
Jumping in Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD is a simple affair, as it is handled with a single button press, but also a complicated one. On one hand, some stages that players can tackle are trivialized through jumping properly but on the other hand stages that require specific jumps or rely heavily on platforming can be a disaster to approach. This is thanks to the odd decision to give the player zero control over the camera which is instead locked a set distance behind the monkey ball. This leads to trying to jump in a 3D space often being more of a leap of faith than anything else and far too many failures and restarts as a result. To make matters worse, this uncontrollable camera can also lead to some incredibly disorienting moments where it will whip around to hold position on a rapidly moving ball changing directions at high speed.
While this does work to create a nice bit of a challenge at times, this challenge often feels more like battling game design than the actual levels themselves. In fact, players will find that Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD struggles with finding a sweet spot for its difficulty curve as the initial half of the game features plenty of simplistic stages that players can blitz through, especially if they have played an entry in the series before, only for it to spike heavily near the end. A bit past the halfway point a sweet spot is managed where players will feel challenged and rewarded for conquering a difficult stage only for levels past the three quarter mark to be brutally difficult that make it far more frustrating than enjoyable and while this challenge is something that eventually does feel rewarding once completed, a smoother curve would have been nice.
At the end of every world players will find themselves facing off against a boss creature. Bosses generally play out the same way with players needing to target a weak spot on their body and jump into it all while trying to avoid being knocked off of the stage. Once again thanks to the lack of camera control many of these boss battles feel far more annoying than actually difficult and can lead to a few “late game” being a breeze compared to a few earlier ones simply due to these systems.
Outside of the core single player mode players will have access to time trials as well as a number of multiplayer mini-games though the number has been drastically cut down this time around. As opposed to the fifty that were found in the original game Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD instead provides only ten, though it is clear that these are probably the best mini-games that worked without the Wii’s motion controls. What is on offer here are a mix of some great games, especially Monkey Target, and a few duds that don’t hold much value and still control terribly. That being said, there is a decathlon mode that allows players to go through all ten mini-games in a row if they want to but this mode only drives home how bad some of them happen to be.
Visuals & Audio
Thanks to the colorful and cartoonish style of the original release Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD manages to clean up quite well for modern consoles. The character designs for the various monkeys are memorable while bosses are unique enough looking while the stages have a nice crisp feeling to them with there being plenty of variety throughout the hundred stages that they rarely feel repetitive outside of the initial world.
It is odd to see, though understandable due to possible licensing issues, but many of the game’s original songs have been changed in this release. The music that has replaced these tracks are solid enough but don’t quite live up to the original pieces. This is noticeable whenever a classic track that was kept intact plays and is noticeably better than the newer pieces.
Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD struggles with finding a balance between providing a challenge and being fun at the same time while trimming back on some of the extra content that may have made it more worthwhile. While there are moments of greatness that see the fast paced gameplay work amazingly alongside the player’s new precise controls over the stage, these moments are few and far between in a game that feels a bit barebones and a rather odd choice considering the other games in the series that could have been given the HD treatment.