Sometimes, a series will stay really niche even if it deserves to be more popular. That’s why no one will listen to me when I preach the gospel of Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg anymore. It’s sort of been a similar case with Monkey Ball. The series is mostly a mainstay of Japanese arcades, but in the west has gathered a quite intense niche audience, but never really broke into what you’d call mainstream success. Now with Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania, the levels of the first two GameCube titles are brought back with extras, nicer graphics, and more modern controls to see if they live up to modern standards.
Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania brings together all of the levels and features from the first two console releases in the franchise, Super Monkey Ball and Super Monkey Ball 2. You may hear claims that it brings the third console release as well, Super Monkey Ball Deluxe. Technically it probably does, but since Deluxe was just a re-release of the first two games with some extra levels added, you might as well say that this is just the remake of Super Monkey Ball Deluxe and have done with it. Jokes aside, this package includes hundreds of levels, over 300 stages, and that doesn’t count the extra unlockable levels or bonus content either.
So it would seem that at the very least, Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania is good value for money. You’ll be getting a huge amount of content here, all with the new HD lick of paint that we expect from re-releases and remasters. A great deal for a Monkey Ball fan, but will it finally manage to bring the series into the mainstream spotlight? Probably not, or at least not on its own. When you’re creating a game to be a re-release of popular entries from a series past, you probably shouldn’t be too shocked if that game only really appeals to fans of the series.
That’s all a roundabout way of saying that the game is still very niche. This is, after all, the classic Monkey Ball experience. Roll your monkey around a level until you get to one of the end goals. Along the way, you have to get around various obstacles, from fast-moving platforms to big holes in the ground or thin tightropes to cross. No matter what the game throws at you, the only move you’ve got is to roll. No jump, no extra added abilities or modifiers, just tilt the stick to roll in a direction. This also means that the slightly fiddly controls and, occasionally frustrating levels are still here too.
That’s not to say that nothing has been taken away or added to the original titles in Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania. Firstly, there’s no more live system that was dangling off the original release like a vestigial wing. You can retry levels over and over again until you’ve mastered them, and thank god for that. The removal of lives from the game did cause a bit of an uproar online. Many fans have claimed that the lives were part of the challenge, and taking them out completely wasn’t the way forward. Honestly, I don’t see how lives could have improved this experience, but if you’re really into being challenged, just promise yourself that every 5 deaths you’ll smash yourself over the head with a very large book. That should make reaching the end of the game much more of a challenge than a lives system. (For legal reasons, don’t actually do any of that.)
In fact, if you’re someone who thinks that only physically challenging games are worth your time then you might want to stop reading at this point. Removing an archaic lives system from the game isn’t the only thing that has been done to make the game easier. There is a whole new ‘helper’ system that can be optionally enabled in a level if you’re stuck. It shows you the best path to take, doubles your time limit, and even gives you the option to use a slow-mo power to make some of the trickier moves a bit easier on yourself. However, this mode does come with drawbacks, as you won’t unlock the special EX challenge version of a map when you use it, and your final time won’t be tallied either.
All in all, I don’t personally find this new helper system much of an issue. If you want a challenge, you don’t have to use it, but it’s helpful if you’re new to the series and don’t know all the tricks to get through stages just yet. You can even come back later and try again without the helper if you want to get all of the levels done 100%. There’s also the option to completely skip a level if you just don’t like it, which is another godsend for anyone who is hoping to do something other than play 300 stages of Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania with their life.
The balance between various levels is a bit off as well. You can end up plugging away one an earlier level for hours, while there are several in later worlds that can be done in a single go. In some cases, it’s not even necessarily clear exactly how you’re supposed to accomplish your given task. It’s sort of hard to be mad at the game about it though. You’ve got a lot of different tools at your disposal to figure out what you’re doing and blast through the brick walls that certain levels become for you.
So is all the rebalancing worth it for a newcomer? I’d say sort of. If you don’t like the Super Monkey Ball gameplay of rolling a monkey in a gatchapon capsule around a level, then this isn’t going to do anything to endear the style to you. However, if you’ve always wanted to get into the series, then this is a great package. It provides plenty of challenges in the levels, but still gives you options for avoiding them if you’ve been bashing your head against a brick wall for 2 hours trying to get through a very rapidly spinning gate in a level. If you’re an old hand at this and have already racked up the hours in the original version, then getting to play your old favorite in HD with some new content should also be pretty appealing, even without the lives system involved.
Speaking of extra content, Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania is just loaded with it. Not only do the 12 party games from Super Monkey Ball Deluxe make a comeback, but there are even extra modes you can unlock that change the main gameplay in various ways. You can reverse courses, have 10 special stages that force you to collect all the bananas before you can complete it, and you can even unlock a jump function to use in the story mode. Most of this content, outside of the party games, can be unlocked via another of the game’s new features: the coin shop.
This area allows you to spend coins you’ve unlocked by playing the story mode and party games. The first interesting things here are the costumes, some of which are based on characters from alternative Sega titles. Sonic and Tails from Sonic the Hedgehog make an appearance, changing all the bananas on their courses into rings. Beat from Jet Set Radio is also available, changing the collectibles into spray cans, obviously. The weirdest extra here is Kazuma Kiryu from the Yakuza franchise, who replaces all of the in-game collectibles with Staminan X bottles. The fact that these new costumes changes both your appearance, as well as the actual in-game items you pick up shows that a decent amount of care and attention has gone into some of these extras.
As well as full costumes for your monkeys, you can also get your hands on some smaller additions, such as hats and accessories. You can even buy some different balls to roll your monkeys around in. Unfortunately, the items you buy can’t be put on the extra characters, and you can’t use the extra characters in the party games either, for some reason. Possibly the greatest shame of this collection is that we’ll never be able to see Kazuma Kiryu playing monkey golf against real monkies, and that’s really a shame.
So, when all is said and done is Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania a good game? Yes, for the most part. It’s nothing groundbreaking by any means, but the re-balancing of the levels makes them much more accessible to newer players, and this is a solid package of the earliest levels from the franchise. If you’re already invested, you’ll find a great re-packing of these older levels, along with a whole bunch of special modes and extra unlockables that make the game worth playing all over again. Despite some frustrating gameplay, the changes are worthwhile, and you’ll be able to skip any of the annoying bits you want to anyway. Just don’t expect this game to sell you on the franchise if you’re not already.
TechRaptor reviewed Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania on Nintendo Switch with a code provided by the publisher. The game is also available on PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S.
- Over 300 levels of classic, fun gameplay
- So much added content, from skins to modes
- Looks great in HD
- Occasionally frustrating levels
- Can't use new characters in party mode