Every good game deserves a chance to shine again. The underdog in Sega’s library has always been Super Monkey Ball, as the quirky party/platformer has always been popular amongst its large fanbase, despite not seeing regular releases over the years. Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania looks to bring us rolling back to the good old days, with a new coat of paint and a fresh set of beats to go bananas over. Can the first installments bundled here capture a new generation of fans? Let’s find out.
Did anyone every play Super Monkey Ball for the plot? Sure, there is a story mode intact, but to this day the light narrative featuring Ai-Ai, Gon-Gon, and other monkies never really did it for me as the gameplay is largely the focus. Sure, it is “cute” and gives our protagonists some needed flavor, but the stages and mechanic utilization are the stars of this entire package. Those looking for more however will love to know that a lot of other Sega characters have been packed in, allowing the player to play as Sonic, Tails, Beat (Jet Set Radio), and even Kazuma Kiryu from Yakuza in ball form. Strong stories or not, there is a lot to love about all of the faces featured, where even non fans will instantly find someone to mesh with.
Featuring a tilt control system where you maneuver stages to roll your character, there is something unique and refreshing about going back into Monkey Ball all these years later. For the most part, controls are familiar and crisp, utilizing modern features to update the game. While longtime fans may find some additions refreshing, others may be amiss at newer refinements. You see, Super Monkey Ball is a game about controlling your momentum through physics on various stages. Your speed and technique comes down to precise movements and skill, which makes the gameplay rewarding and oh so satisfying.
For the most part, these stages feel better than ever, with minor touches added to enhance difficulty and balance areas that may have been a little wonky in the past. The massive variety of stages are sure to keep most rolling along fine, but the difficulty spikes (and the constant rolling off the stage) adds a layer of tedium that felt a bit unnecessary. There are “helper” assists and a ton of power-ups that can aid in frustrating courses, but the precise motions required along with trial-and-error gameplay don’t always mix as they should, with minor imperfections in design sticking out on several stages in later parts of the game. Sure, the gameplay is still fun, I just think as an adult I pay attention to detail a little too much to get the enjoyment out of some sections compared to how I consumed these little stages years ago.
Monkey Target, one of the most popular modes also makes a reappearance here, and things are mostly decent, but minor innovations of the present have muddied the mode just a bit. Maybe its that the controls just don’t feel as tight for this mode, or maybe it is just the way the restructuring of said controls work in comparison, but rolling down that old ramp is a lot more cumbersome than it used to be. Add in awkward animations for any drop-off and some of the past charm has obviously faded for Banana Mania’s well-meaning recreation. Monkey Billards is still fun, as is Tennis and so on, but make no mistake, this is a rebuilt version of past titles, and enjoyable or not, will not feel exactly the same as they did on previous consoles.
That said, this may be one of the most jam-packed party titles to hit a modern consoles. There is so much to do and see that even a handful of minor annoyances are forgivable due to the amount of quality content found within this package. Sure, the mini-games were treated with less love and attention than the main game, but that main game and some of those unique oddities are still lovely, where a player can go in and spend hours rolling around, dashing through hoops, curves, and loops to their heart’s content.
I think the most prominent feature of the past Monkey Ball titles was the amount of color the game had. This title is even more visually stunning, with polished graphics adding updates that still give us that zest and pop from the past. The cutscenes are less appealing this time around, but still do a decent enough job at creating the little narrative within to be forgiven, as again- most will not go into this party game looking for a novel. I see a lot of die-hard fans having trouble digesting the heavy amount of change visually for Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania. I was never in that group and still had my moments, but they never really stopped my own momentum once I really got into the core experience.
The audio is superb here. With a lot of new tracks and a handful of the old for the nostalgic, there is a reason this soundtrack comes readily available. Each melody fleshes out a stage, adding so much charm and quirk that the tunes easily make up for most shortcomings of the actual game. With all of the sound updates I was surprised not to see more personality added into the cast itself, but Sega played it safe there and succeeded in keeping these primates endearing and lovable.
Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania is one of the best party games in years. There is just so much to do and experience that its hard to just go in for a pocket of time without staying up an entire night, attempting to beat a score or nail a new goal. Imperfections aside, this remade entry may not be the exact deluxe edition that so many discovered years ago, but it manages to celebrate the franchise well enough to re-introduce these hidden mascots to audiences in an effective manner. There is a bright future ahead for Super Monkey Ball, and if Banana Mania is any indication, we have a lot to look forward to.
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