Sometimes, it's pretty obvious that a game is hard. A gritty aesthetic, overdesigned boss battles, and serious "tough guy" music are all ways to set the stage for a bruisin'. Other games are far more insidious with their difficulty. Bright, colorful charmers like Gunstar Heroes and Fantasy Zone pretend towards cutesy accessibility but they're hiding spikes and nails inside their pinatas. Super Monkey Ball is no exception, and with Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD on the horizon, fans of hard games will soon have another fix for their addiction.
Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz was originally a launch title for the ridiculously successful Nintendo Wii back in 2006, but it's often overlooked. Amid platforming titans like Super Mario Galaxy and stalwarts like The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, Banana Blitz doesn't get a fair look-in. Sega and Yakuza developer Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio are aiming to rectify that with this HD remaster, which applies a new coat of paint and fixes up the original controls. I got to sit down with a preview version of the game to see just how much has changed in Banana Blitz town.
Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD Is Simple Fun
Here's the plot: a big monkey has taken your bananas and you must get them back. It doesn't take a genius to realize that this isn't a game overly concerned with storytelling. Given its arcade origins, Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD is here for one thing and one thing only: to have fun. Everything here is geared towards eliciting maximum enjoyment from you. From the Day-Glo menus and music right through to the relentlessly cheery visual style, Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD aims for simple, straightforward fun.
Continuing the theme of simplicity, Banana Blitz HD has two controls: move and jump. That's literally it. Monkey Ball's arcade origins are apparent in Banana Blitz HD; there's a lives system, a time limit, and a score meter. None of them are particularly useful given the trial-and-error nature of the gameplay, but it's clear the game is aiming for the score-attack crowd. The single-player campaign does provide a good reason for non-score-obsessed gamers to give it a try, but the replayability is in trying for a high score.
Like the rest of its series, Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD is ridiculously compelling. The just-one-more-try design philosophy of the franchise is fully intact here. There's a small thrill each time the camera flies over the level and shows you the upcoming challenge you're about to take on. The core gameplay loop of Super Monkey Ball is unassailable, and Banana Blitz HD provides yet more physics puzzle platforming to sate your hunger on that front.
Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD Has Visual Issues
The biggest and most apparent issue with Banana Blitz HD is its camera. Super Monkey Ball is a series all about tilting the stage to move the ball. As such, the levels are frequently moving. With that in mind, it probably wasn't the best idea for the devs to cause the level to spring around like a paranoid flea with every slight movement. The frequent and violent motion of the stages combined with the camera perspective can be very unpleasant. It's liable to give you motion sickness if you're a sufferer (as I am).
That could well be my aging eyes. Still, it's a very rare thing that games make me feel physically ill, so there's a good chance the camera in this game just isn't great. It's not a deal-breaker - your eyes and brain will likely adjust eventually - but "my hobby made me sick" isn't the best selling point for a game. There is a camera sensitivity slider in the options menu, but either I'm too far-gone to help or it didn't do anything when I moved it.
That's to say nothing of the chaotic gameplay and the way the camera impacts that aspect of Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD. When your ball is moving at full pelt, the camera struggles to keep up with the rapidly oscillating level. I died a few times just because I had no idea where my monkey was. If the camera was just a little more zoomed out, these problems would be hugely mitigated. As it stands, there's some work to do on the camera system.
Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD's Wii Origins
Everything about Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD screams "Wii launch title". There's a tentative touch to the level design that seems to reflect hardware not yet fully understood by the devs. Stages are even more basic than usual. The first two worlds are laughably easy, and the boss fights, while providing a cursory challenge, never stretch the grey matter. There is a difficulty curve, but as a whole, it's lower than previous Monkey Ball games.
Most of that could well be due to Banana Blitz HD's original control scheme. Being a Wii launch title, it was designed to sell the Wiimote's motion capabilities. Monkey Ball is a precision platformer, so the idea of playing it with motion controls seems insane to me. Still, it's fairly clear the levels were designed with a large margin of error in mind, so playing with a normal controller makes them feel weirdly empty and featureless.
Thankfully, there are also party-style mini-games. They're not created equal. Some are better than others - Monkey Target remains a clear favorite - but they're all worth trying with a few friends. There's also a new Decathlon mode in which you can compete with others around the world in a series of all ten minigames. It all feels like an adorable throwback to a bygone era of gaming. This aspect of Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD won't keep you as occupied as the main game, but the minigames are a solid option for gaming parties.
Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD Preview | Final Thoughts
There's nothing to suggest you won't be getting a very enjoyable Super Monkey Ball game when Banana Blitz HD launches later this month. Camera issues aside, the Wii game was still a great platformer, and Banana Blitz HD brings the visual makeover needed to enjoy it on modern displays. If your inner ear is stalwart enough, you'll likely bomb through the main campaign quickly, but I'm excited to discover new challenges and new worlds when the final game lands. Here's hoping success will lead to more Monkey Ball games in the future.