Bananas In Dioramas
The Super Monkey Ball series is a masterclass in dichotomy. On the one hand, a relentlessly cheery and upbeat tone. On the other, a monstrous difficulty that leaves a trail of broken controllers and frustrated children in its wake. Combining light with darkness in this way is nothing new, but Super Monkey Ball is a master of its craft. Looking back at said craft, Banana Blitz may well be the great forgotten Monkey Ball game. It's a good thing we have Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD to remind us that yes, there was a Wii entry in the series, and yes, it would have been infinitely better without motion controls.
So here's what Banana Blitz HD is and what it isn't. It is an HD remastering of the original game, complete with all of its stages and single-player content. It isn't a full remake or a reimagining, so don't expect new stages. Having said that, there is new stuff. Some of the minigames have been removed, with the remaining ones reworked alongside a few new gameplay modes. Otherwise, it's still very much business as usual. Barring a new coat of paint, Banana Blitz HD is the same Wii game from 2006, for better and worse.
Banana Blitz HD Is Good For Newbies
If you've never played a Super Monkey Ball game before, Banana Blitz is a great place to start. In many ways, it presents the core values and gameplay loop of the series in their purest and most accessible form. Everything Monkey Ball represents appears in a stripped-back way in Banana Blitz HD. That works both to its credit and to its detriment. You'll find a great introductory experience here, but you also won't find a lot to love if you're a seasoned Monkey Ball pro.
Every Monkey Ball game takes the same form with some minor differences between titles. You are a monkey in a ball (crazy, right?). You must reach the end of a series of increasingly challenging 3D platforming stages. To achieve this, you can tilt the level to move your monkey and you can jump. Those are the only controls you've got. The challenge in Monkey Ball games comes from tricky level design and an increasing emphasis on physics as you make progress.
Unfortunately, that challenge isn't particularly stimulating in Banana Blitz HD. The level design is more basic than in previous Monkey Ball titles. Most of the early stages are big geometric shapes that you could only fail to dodge if you were distracted by a pile of tasty bananas. Later on, things do get a little trickier. By the end, Banana Blitz HD will have you tearing out your hair with the best of 'em. It just takes a long time to get going, especially if you know what you're doing.
Banana Blitz HD Feels Last-Gen
A big part of that lower difficulty is thanks to Banana Blitz HD's Wii origins. It's obvious the devs designed these levels around imprecise motion controls. The play areas are much bigger and emptier than in other Monkey Ball games. I can imagine that many of the challenges in the later game would be hideous for motion control players, but the precision offered by a modern controller offsets this challenge almost entirely.
That's no excuse for some of Banana Blitz HD's more baffling moments. The Monkey Ball franchise is known for its fast, frenetic action. In Banana Blitz HD, there are levels where the action stops completely so you can wait on a swinging pendulum or in a rolling cage. Death is never a concern, and you're often at a standstill for fifteen seconds or more. That might not sound like much, but it kills the pacing. More than once, I'd complete a series of tricky platforming challenges, then stop in my tracks to wait for the level to play itself for a few moments. Perhaps these sections were designed as breathers, but ending the level there would have been better. Dying later on and having to repeat those lengthy hands-off sequences is a real downer.
More often than not, it's the camera that kills in Banana Blitz HD. Presumably in order to compensate for the original motion controls' "accuracy", the level tilts violently with slight movement. Earlier on, when the levels are easier, this doesn't matter so much (although it will probably give you a headache). Later, though, the constant over-the-top tilting results in more than a few unnecessary deaths in harder stages. The challenge doesn't feel fair when you're fighting against the mechanics rather than the level design.
Banana Blitz HD Gets Grating
Perhaps the most divisive element of Banana Blitz HD is its design. There's something charming about the sweeter-than-honey opening track and the relentlessly adorable visual design. It's nice to see a property enjoying itself in this age of drab darkness and "serious" gaming. That philosophy is shot through the whole of Banana Blitz HD, from its single-player campaign to its multiplayer minigames and beyond.
After a while, though, the decision to keep things upbeat becomes questionable. Put simply, this game's visual and sound design began to seriously get on my nerves after half an hour or so. The monkeys' incessant yelping with each jump becomes incredibly annoying when you need to jump multiple times to clear a level. Maybe it's the intense concentration needed to play a Monkey Ball game, but after a while, it all just started to feel too loud, too constant, and too bright.
Depending on how high your tolerance for cutesy quirkiness goes, your mileage may vary. This isn't an experience for late nights and liqueur coffees. It's a colorful odyssey of noise and hyperactivity. The relatively high difficulty (this is fairly easy for a Monkey Ball game, but newbies could still struggle) just means the repetition of the sound and visuals starts to grate after a time. Play Banana Blitz HD in short bursts and you can mitigate this problem significantly.
Banana Blitz HD Is Still Great Fun
Despite these problems, I still found myself enjoying Banana Blitz HD. Maybe it's the purism of the experience. Overcoming a series of storied challenges is a simple thrill. It can sometimes feel like modern gaming is trying to abandon that thrill in favor of what it considers to be a more "cerebral" design. Banana Blitz HD cries nonsense to that and reminds us that games could simply be fun and nothing more back in the good old days.
The minigames are an undeniable part of that fun. In keeping with Monkey Ball tradition, Banana Blitz HD contains a series of minigames you can play with your buddies. The new Decathlon mode also allows you to compete with players around the world for the best score in a series of all ten minigames on offer. You never need to touch this aspect of Banana Blitz HD if you don't want to, but stalwarts like Monkey Target are still worth a blast.
Banana Blitz HD's Wii origins show themselves again in the fact that the minigames here are clearly stripped down. Monkey Target is missing a lot of its more interesting elements, and other minigames simply don't feel complete or well-rounded. There's a general lack of content in Banana Blitz HD. The single-player campaign is over in a few hours, and the minigames won't sustain your interest beyond a few sessions with friends (whose interest will probably dwindle as fast as yours does).
Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD | Final Thoughts
Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD is a pretty solid remaster of the original Banana Blitz on Wii. The visuals are smooth, the gameplay feels better without motion controls, and a lot of the minigame chaff has been stripped out in favor of the wheat. Unfortunately, there's something lacking about the experience as a whole. The level design is basic and becomes repetitive after a while. Little frustrations add up to big ones in the course of time and make Banana Blitz HD's runtime feel longer than it is.
Many of the original Banana Blitz's quirks remain as quirky as ever. The boss fights are still woeful. This kind of experience doesn't lend itself well to the short, sustained tension of a boss battle, and Banana Blitz HD's bosses range from trivial to infuriating. It's a neat idea, but it feels like innovation for innovation's sake. Banana Blitz failed to focus on its strengths in favor of introducing new and unnecessary weaknesses, and Banana Blitz HD doesn't fix that.
Ultimately, Banana Blitz HD is still worth a run-through. It's a very short game, but it's still Monkey Ball, and the modern gaming landscape needs that franchise's purity of purpose. This is far from the best the series has to offer. Super Monkey Ball Deluxe on PlayStation 2 has yet to be bettered. If Banana Blitz's motion controls are all that put you off the original, then Banana Blitz HD is a marked improvement. Sadly, too many of its frustrations remain to prevent an unqualified recommendation.
TechRaptor reviewed Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD on PlayStation 4 Pro with a copy provided by the publisher.
- Classic Super Monkey Ball Gameplay
- Fun Quality-Over-Quantity Minigames
- Relentlessly Cheerful Tone
- Horrible Camera
- Too Easy In Places
- Lack Of Content