For the rest of my life, I’ll have fond memories of playing Super Monkey Ball 1 and 2 on my Gamecube after school. It was such an absurd concept, monkeys trapped in balls avoiding obstacles to reach the goal in time, like a marble madness fever dream, but it was the perfect balance of zany monkey-business and action-puzzle gameplay. I even remember being excited for Banana Blitz on Wii and the disappointment thereafter. But I never stopped being a fan of the franchise. Naturally, I was less than excited to see this was the game picked to be remastered instead of 1 and 2, but I was able to see Banana Blitz in a new light this time around.
My primary reason for disliking the original release was based upon the motion controls, and those have been removed in favor of the more traditional control stick movement. Guiding your selected monkey around the 100 included levels is just as fun as it once was. You see, you’re not exactly controlling the monkey in the titular ball, but rather manipulating the world around said ball. It’s strange, leads to bad camera angles, and honestly shouldn’t work, but the resulting chaos is simple to pick up and filled with a shocking amount of depth. Go look up a speed run and make sure to hold on to your jaw.
The amount of precision you have over the monkey ball is wild and it’s a lot of fun to hone your skill and navigate more and more challenging levels. That’s the core of a Super Monkey Ball game and it remains mostly unchanged after almost 20 years. The one big addition to this game back in 2006 was the ability to jump and it definitely split the fan base. I don’t mind having to jump around the stages as it actually adds some depth and makes it more like a platformer than other entries.
The single-player portion takes you through 10 different themed worlds with new obstacles introduced liberally. Narrow rails, bouncy floors, boost pads, rotating platforms, and much more ensure every level is distinct. I had a ball going through the campaign, even if the difficulty was uneven throughout. In fact, the first 40 levels pretty much serve as the tutorial for the rest of the game and that’s where things can sometimes get really tough. Skilled Super Monkey Ball fans will, however, say that this is the easiest series entry by far. I’ve never been a Monkey Ball savant, so I don’t mind this game being easier and like the fact that there are only 5 stages I haven’t seen yet. Just know that if you’re skilled at the other entries, Banana Blitz will not challenge you as you might want.
If you do get stuck on a level, you can’t skip it or try others from that world; you must beat that level to continue. This seems like a strange choice given the ‘pick whatever you want’ approach from Super Monkey Ball 2 (and others) and this game’s own UI. It’s personally frustrating that I unlocked world 10 but won’t be able to see the last couple of levels because I’m stuck on level 5, but such is life.
The other main addition to the single-player is the boss fights which range from utterly forgettable, to horrendously frustrating. I understand wanting to remake this game exactly as it was, but these encounters are bad, with a design that relies on killing you through unseen or unexpected actions in order for you to ‘learn.’ Quite frankly, they could have removed them completely and I don’t think anyone would have noticed or cared. It’s unfortunate because thematically and design-wise, they are actually interesting. Shame they aren’t any fun.
As a longtime fan, I must mention one odd omission in this title and that is the lack of replays. Previous entries had a replay of the last couple of seconds for each level that would play upon completion. That is gone. You also used to be able to record full runs of levels for playback later. That is also gone. I know I could save these via the console itself, but it wouldn’t be as simple as an in-game option. And considering the first game in the series had this functionality almost 20 years ago, it not being here this time is a disappointment. Every time I bounced into the goal triumphantly, narrowly missed a jump, or accidentally did something else cool, the rush was awesome until I was hit with the immediate realization that I’d never been able to relive that moment. I never realized how much I liked that feature until it was gone. Being able to share these clips from the game itself would have been awesome and serve as some free promotion for the game to boot. But what do I know?
Banana Blitz originally came with 50 minigames, but this remaster has pared it down to the most popular 10. There’s only local play for these minigames with online leaderboards for time trials and the new Decathlon mode. This mode tests your abilities in each of the minigames and then combines the scores. It’s a fun idea but I don’t think it will be one you go back to more than a few times.
Aside from unlocking all the single-player levels, costumes for each playable Monkey, and Sonic, I can’t see anything else for me to do besides achievement/trophy hunt. That said, I had a lot of fun going through the levels and pushing my skills to the limit. Every challenging stage I overcame was incredibly satisfying and had me grinning from ear to ear and cheering in my chair. There’s something unbelievably entertaining and fun about Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD, just know what it is you’re getting into before considering a purchase.