Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD (Switch) Review
Super Monkey Ball is a franchise that has unfortunately been dead in the water for over 5 years now. It’s a series that had been on the regular decline, until Sega decided it was time for a good, long nap. All the stars were aligning for Monkey Ball’s revival on current generation systems with Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD, but with a heavy heart, it pains me to say that perhaps AiAi and his friends may have benefitted from staying asleep a little longer.
Banana Blitz HD consists of four modes. This includes the Main Game, a multiplayer Party Games mode, Time Attack and the Decathlon. The main attraction is unsurprisingly the Main Game, with the other modes honestly just serving as fodder to check out when you’re really bored and have nothing else to do.
The Main Game consists of a series of 8 Worlds to trek through, with 8 stages and a boss included in each one. If you’ve played any Super Monkey Ball before, this game is pretty standard fare. You are presented with six different playable monkeys, each with their own unique stats. Some are lighter and faster, and others are heavier and slower. The goal of the game is to guide your monkey throughout the various stages by tilting the stage and overcoming obstacles to see them through to the end.
For new players, tilting the entire stage – rather than just moving your character – can be disorientating. It’s easy to experience motion sickness while playing Banana Blitz HD, especially on handheld. During my time with the game, it took almost half the playthrough for me to finally adjust to the play style. I found myself needing regular breaks because the game was such a headache to experience.
Another point of contention for the game is its difficulty. It’s hard to describe as anything other than strange, and honestly, much of that strangeness comes not from the original game – but from this particular re-release. The original Wii release of Banana Blitz was infamous for its motion controls. You used motion controls to tilt the stage, and you used motion controls to jump. Thankfully, those motion controls were removed here… but to compensate for that, many of the stages have been altered in an attempt to balance out the design. The result is a bit of a mess.
The first few worlds are relatively easy. Almost too easy. Levels never really stray from straightforward paths, simple turns and basic platforming. The joy to be had is sparse, as it feels like you’re almost doing the same thing over and over again with nothing memorable to take away from the experience of doing so. However, what’s really baffling is the latter half of the game. From World 5 until the end of the main campaign, many of the challenges presented to you are almost nothing but a series of tightrope walking and leaps of faith.
After having to attempt individual levels over a few dozen times, It turns any sense of joy that you might’ve had into confusion and frustration, and the only thing you’re left feeling is a throbbing headache from the obnoxiously bubbly music that’s paired with the grating high pitched voice clips from your playable character, and a nagging sense that maybe you’re playing the game wrong somehow. Sadly, the truth is that the fault lies in the game itself. As mentioned earlier, changes were made to accommodate the lack of motion controls for this new release of Banana Blitz. What these changes wound up being was the removal of certain rails in favour for some horrible, nasty, little tightrope platforms.
At first this seems like common sense. Since the player doesn’t have to worry about motion controls anymore, what’s the issue in making these guided rails flat platforms instead? Though, the problem is, these levels were not designed with flat platforms in mind. As a result, Banana Blitz HD transforms some relatively simple levels into absolute hell. You could potentially spend hours losing all your lives to a single impossible jump as skill is thrown out the window for sheer, pure luck. It doesn’t help that when you have no right analog stick to control the camera, missing jumps means it’s more worthwhile to just die and restart the level rather than get back on the platform you were trying to reach (which are usually more tightropes).
Much of the problems Banana Blitz HD would be solved if the jumping was more precise. It unfortunately never stops feeling clunky and bulky, and it makes a lot of sense why it was a feature that never returned in future instalments. Boss battles especially highlight how unsatisfying jumping can be, as all of them require you to hit extremely specific spots by doing so. In combination with constantly fighting against the camera, it all proves to make bosses a real low spot in an already disappointing game.
The main campaign features these golden Champion Medals you can earn by completing a world without losing any of your lives, but you would be torturing yourself by trying to attempt that in the latter half of the game. It doesn’t matter anyway, because these Champion Medals seemingly unlock nothing other than bragging rights… and being lucky at this game is not worth bragging about. After making it to the credits, you unlock Sonic the Hedgehog as a playable character and gain access to an extra couple of worlds. Everything that makes Banana Blitz HD frustrating is amplified in these bonus levels, and are absolutely not worth playing. Not even for Sonic. Sorry, buddy.
If you somehow found joy in the Main Game and crave more monkey action, there’s also the Time Attack available for you on the main menu. There are three modes available within Time Attack – the Casual Course, Standard Course and the Expert Course. The Casual Course challenges you to finish the entire first world as quickly as possible, while the Standard Course does the same for Worlds 1-5, and the Expert Course Worlds 1-8.
The Party Games mode surprisingly wound up being my personal highlight of this entire game. It features 10 different minigames you can play with up to four players. These minigames aren’t too different from what you’d find in contemporaries such as Mario Party, with a surprisingly similar amount of depth (which is not the deepest). After playing through all of them in an afternoon with my partner, we came away feeling that revisiting most of them would be unlikely. However, certain gems such as Monkey Target, where you parachute your character onto islands marked with targets, or our favourite – Dangerous Route, where you navigate your monkey through tight mazes had us promising each other to return again at some point.
Decathlon Mode features all the same minigames as the Party Games, requiring you however to complete all of them solo. After completing all ten minigames, your points throughout are totalled and weighed against other players online in another leaderboard. It was hard to see the point in playing games designed to be experienced with other players by yourself, but for anyone who loves all the minigames that much, Decathlon Mode is relatively inoffensive and doesn’t detract anything from the overall game.
I wanted to love Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD so much, but ultimately, I walked away with a bitter taste in my mouth. The Super Monkey Ball franchise is one that deserves to thrive again, and it’s sad to say that I think today isn’t the day that happens.
Rating: 2 / 5
+ Certain Minigames make for a great afternoon
+ AiAi is adorable
+ Leaderboard is functional
- Horrendous level design
-Monkey voices will drive you insane over time
- Constant battles with the camera