Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania (Switch) Review
For years people have been clamouring for Sega to either remake the first two Super Monkey Ball console games or port the Deluxe version, which mashed the two together in one package. Since then, Sega has done everything but that to recreate those games to which many hold dear. Oh, there’s been so many. So, so many.
But now, after more than a decade and a half of begging, Sega’s done it – they’ve mashed not only Super Monkey Ball 1 and 2 together but also the best of Deluxe, like a veritable banana smoothie. So this time, is the recipe right? Well, it’s not exact, but it’s so damn close you might not even notice.
As someone who’s played many Super Monkey Ball games, I’m mentally not sure where one game starts and the other ends. They’re all a blur in my head, and Banana Mania does nothing to alleviate this. You see, there’s a lot of content here, and I’m not exactly sure where it’s coming from, but some of it feels like I’ve played it before. Still, I couldn’t tell you what specific game it’s from; it’s like a Monkey Ball fever dream, which is good because despite the game having a lot of recycled content, there’s a lot there to play.
The game’s story mode, spread across ten worlds, draws from multiple games; there are challenges modes from various games, and there are stages from other games, stages that are the “original” stages – and you get the idea. There’s a lot, and there’s a lot to do in them as well, with each level containing multiple missions (complete a level fast, perfect, collect so many bananas etc.) so you’ll be going back on stages to complete these missions and climb the rankings multiple times. Basically, do anything in the game, and you’ll get coins to unlock things quite easily.
Speaking of easily, Super Monkey Ball has never been something that’s done with ease. Some levels are pretty – how to say this eloquently – complete bullshit. Now I try not to swear in a review, but this game will make you swear with how petty some of the levels are. Lucky for you, the developers have added a few ways to get past the BS and get moving. New additions to the series include a helper mode and a stage skip. Should you find any stage too troublesome, you can opt to turn on a helper. This helper can show you the optimal way through a stage, double the time to complete it and if you’re struggling, which if you turned on the helper clearly are, slow down the gameplay. Fret not purists: you can completely ignore this, and those who use the helper will be flagged as such. Just like those who skip stages, they’re not getting the shiny golden completion medal.
You should burn through the game’s “story” pretty quickly, but this is an arcade game. Ultimately, the story means nothing really, because there’s so much more to do, including the previously mentioned challenges and rankings (more on that soon).
Now you might be a Super Monkey Ball fan and not have touched the game’s story or challenges mode because you were always there for the Party Games (mini-games). They were great, and the games that were great the first time around are still great (Monkey Race, Target and Billiards), but the bad ones – yep, they’re still bad (Monkey Boat, I don’t like you at all). However, my favourite game, Monkey Target, is just a little off. The game has you slam your monkey down a ramp and fly. The ball then opens and you wing away. Unfortunately, it seems Banana Mania doesn’t bother with letting your set up your ramp correctly, and instead flings you off in a canned animation. While it’s good to have items and the wind back, it’s just the slight feeling of something being off, and that’s the story of the day.
Super Monkey Ball purists will tell you the game is all about physics, and it’s true. The game’s physics and how the ball accelerates, bounces, and interacts with the world is pivotal to the Monkey Ball experience. I’m going to sound like a broken record here, but again, Sega had tinkered again and again with the games attempting to get the Monkey Ball experience right, when it was in front of them the entire time. The good news is that Banana Mania is only just a little off. It’s hard to explain, but as someone who’s played a lot of Monkey Ball, it still feels different enough that I can’t play a level with the same confidence as I could in the past. I quickly went to Monkey Ball 2 on the GameCube, and it just felt right, and the same levels that I felt like I was tiptoeing through on the Switch were just a breeze on the GameCube. Now, if you’re new to Monkey Ball or only ever played one of the bad ones, you’ve got nothing to worry about. The physics will be perfect for 99% of people because their brain hasn’t got a video game from the early 2000s retaining muscle memory.
So Banana Mania is loaded with content from three games, and with 12 party games, there’s a lot to do there as well. However, the fun doesn’t stop there. You can take on the world with leaderboards for both the main parts of the game and the party games. These leaderboards are either for time or score, but it’s a shame to see ghosts locked behind one mode and not integrated with the rankings a bit better. There are also many menus to go through to see a ranking, then go back out and take it on.
As mentioned before, there’s also plenty of cosmetics, characters and fun things like filters to spend the in-game currency on as well. It’s a lot of fun to dress up the characters or play the game with Sonic. There’s a lot of unlocking but plenty of coins to go around to get it – assuming you don’t skip every stage.
Super Monkey Ball has never been a graphical showcase with simple stages, and a simple design lets you get to your goal and Banana Mania is no different. While the stages and the backgrounds have been given a lick of paint, they’re still very simple, but that’s fine — you’ll be too busy trying not to fall off a stage to even notice it. Some of the party games look a bit tired, though, with the smoke effects in Target and the river in Boat looking very early 2000s. These simpler graphics, however, allow the game to run at 60fps for the most part. There can be some stuttering creeping in on some of the busier levels. It’s a real shame because you need precision in Super Monkey Ball, they don’t happen often, but it’s usually as you’re teetering over the edge… well, I’m going to blame my falls on that.
The game’s soundtrack also slaps hard when it wants to and is entirely forgettable the next minute. Luckily the highs are high with some euro-dance type thing going on — music nerds have a go at me; that’s what it sounds like to me! There’s also been some debate about the noise the monkeys make when they’re walking in the ball; it didn’t annoy me, but my wife pointed it out a couple of times, so it might be annoying to some. Really, if you can live with screeching high pitched monkeys, you can live with that.
Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania is the best attempt yet by Sega to get back to the brilliance that was the original games. While purists will still feel just a little off at the game’s physics, everyone else probably won’t notice. With the stack of party games, things to unlock and almost near infinite replayability, Banana Mania will be something you return to repeatedly. We’ve all been begging for a remake of Super Monkey Ball. We’ve finally got, and while it’s not perfect – really what is?
+ Stacks and stacks of content
+ Party games are as fun as ever
+ Added accessibility and difficulty options
- Purists will find the physics off
- Odd performance hiccups
- Menu navigation structure is annoying for anything involving records