I have a wealth of fond memories when it comes to the Super Monkey Ball series – the first two games at least – whether it’s trying to hold my nerve rolling through its challenging selection of Marble Madness-style levels or competing against my friends in the hugely entertaining party games. What a hell of a time Monkey Target is. It’s been a while since we’ve had a proper console Super Monkey Ball game so when rumours of a new entry in the series started to circle the web I immediately took notice. Then news broke this would be a HD remaster, which again had me excited. The original GameCube classics seemed like a perfect match for the Switch after all.
Unfortunately, SEGA went with a different Super Monkey Ball game to remaster…
Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz launched with the Wii system back in 2006 implementing motion controls, boasting a new art style and upping its line-up of mini-games to a Mario Party-sized 50. It had all the hallmarks of a Super Monkey Ball game but definitely fell way short of the high standard the previous two games had set. In short, it seems like a strange choice for a remaster. Then again perhaps SEGA have made changes that improve the game?
The main mode of the game once again revolves around rolling a ball (with a monkey inside) through a series of obstacle-filled levels collecting bananas and essentially trying to keep from falling off the edge. When you’re not navigating levels, you’ll also be snatching at bananas in bonus stages or tackling giant bosses (more on those later).
Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD includes all one hundred stages from the original Wii release which leads me to one of the game’s bigger issues. These stages were originally designed to accommodate motion controls with wider tracks and plenty of rails to keep you from falling off resulting in level design that can often feel uninspired at times.
Sure, that made more sense back on the Wii but when using the far more accurate control stick it results in a large chunk of these stages feeling very easy. What once felt tough to navigate tilting your hand is now a breeze simply pushing the control stick. It wasn’t until six worlds in that I actually found myself feeling challenged. Even the small changes that have been made here and there don’t have much of a positive impact
There are moments where you can feel that Super Monkey Ball magic though. Stages that put your skills to the test and whose design encourage you to retry even five fails in. This is how you remember the older games being. Unfortunately, these moments are outweighed by those dampened by uninspired level design, a lack of difficulty and a few dubious features exclusive to this specific Super Monkey Ball game.
The first is that you can now jump at the press of a button, an ability that feels out of place for the series and to be quite honest tacked on. Boss battles are the other new addition that again simply doesn’t feel at home with a Super Monkey Ball game. Each encounter frustrates more than anything be it through battling the camera or having to patiently wait through dull boss animations for an opening. Fail and you have to do the entire ordeal again. It comes as little surprise the series never returned to bosses again.
Speaking of party games, the original fifty included in the Wii original have been cut down to just ten here, a reduction that sounds disappointing on paper but given their overall quality actually feels like a blessing in disguise. Of the ones that remain most feel shallow or simply not much fun to play. There’s Whack-A-Mole, hurdle racing, hammer throw and snowboarding among others but none of them warrant more than a single playthrough. Even the returning Monkey Target feels like a stripped-down version of the outstanding GameCube original, devoid of much depth or features. You can play these party games with up to four players but even with a full house, there’s little fun to be had outside an initial playthrough.
The game’s visuals have been given a high-definition boost but it’s an update that can’t disguise the dated look of what is now a ten-year-old game. The soundtrack too has seen changes, a handful of its songs replaced with other lesser tunes.
Online leaderboards are an appreciated addition but one that’s restricted in some weird ways. For starters, the game doesn’t include individual stage leaderboards. Instead, you’re limited to comparing combined times for finishing the first world or big groups of them. The same is true for party games where the game records your combined score for playing all ten in a row but not individual ones. It’s a strange choice to go about leaderboards this way and one that really didn’t appeal to me. If I could polish off my times on single stages and rise up the ranks then that might have kept me coming back. Having to commit to ten or fifty level time trials just isn’t as attractive.
Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD is a substandard remaster of a game that quite frankly didn’t need it in the first place. The disappointing level design, frustrating boss battles and shallow party games are a sore reminder of just how much this series has fallen since the glory days of the GameCube pair. I want the series back just as much as any fan, but not like this.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by SEGA