In the 20 years that Super Monkey Ball has been around, I don’t think you’d find many people who’d argue the claim that its best days were easily found in its opening few years. In fact, the original 2002 game and its sequel stand tall alongside the very best the GameCube had to offer. Since then, the series has never managed to maintain the spark that made those first two classics so special despite its numerous attempts including the introduction of bosses, a jump ability and controlling the monkeys with the Wii Balance Board (the less said about this particular experiment the better).
Thankfully for the series’ 20th anniversary, SEGA has opted to return to the original games that made the series such a hit in the first place with Super Monkey Ball: Banana Mania, a remaster of sorts combining all content from Super Monkey Ball, Super Monkey Ball 2 and Super Monkey Ball Deluxe. Essentially, what fans have been clamouring for years now.
For those approaching Super Monkey Ball: Banana Mania with no prior simian rolling experience, the game involves manoeuvring a monkey in a ball around a series of stages filled with obstacles and narrow platforms aplenty. These stages start off innocent enough with layouts straightforward and platforms wide. Introduction period over though, and quickly those generosities start to disappear with routes much skinnier, twisting and turning requiring a steady nerve to master and things generally getting far crazier. Ever wondered how tough it might be to navigate around the SEGA logo? Or trying to land within the goal after being fired up a ramp sky-high?
Bringing together the aforementioned Super Monkey Ball titles, it seems no level has been left behind in the process with the total reaching over 300. These are spread out between the more arcade-style challenge mode where players can choose between easy and tougher groups of levels as well as Super Monkey Ball 2’s story mode. The latter brings back its narrative from the original game only this time presented through static animations that thankfully are skippable.
Playing through the many many levels proves just as enjoyable as it did all those years ago. Manoeuvring through nightmarish course after nightmarish course presents that same process of frustration, practice and super satisfying accomplishment. Whether you’re new to these games or a returning fan, the main mode feels as though it caters to all. It’s a shame all this is limited to a single player. The original games offered some form of multiplayer (including split-screen) so to see this missing here is disappointing.
Along with Super Monkey Ball: Banana Mania’s main game, all twelve party games also make a return from the first two entries in the series most catering up to four players. Among this bunch at worst, you’ll find a few simply okay games like the arcade shooter Monkey Shot and Star Fox inspired Monkey Dogfight, with everything else then ranging from good to excellent. Monkey Baseball and Tennis are both simple but enjoyable takes on the sports while Monkey Bowling – along with a standard ten-frame game – offers fun but challenging lanes that include curves, moving platforms and more zany obstacles.
Ranking among the top of the group is Monkey Race, a fun and exciting Mario Kart-lite complete with a dozen tracks and fun items. Monkey Fight meanwhile is a short and chaotic battle where players try their best to remain in an arena whilst punching others off and scoring points. Monkey Golf is another excellent game, offering both miniature (the best version in my opinion) and full-fledged courses. Are there differences in how any of these play when compared with the originals? Probably, but if they do, the differences were too slight to ever raise an eyebrow… that is except one game.
It’s with a large sigh of disappointment then that I have to reveal Super Monkey Ball: Banana Mania manages to drop the ball (no pun intended) when it comes to Monkey Target. The original party game is more than likely the one fans point to when they talk about their favourite so if SEGA had to absolutely nail anything, it had to be this. Sadly, playing this version of Monkey Target is a rather hollow experience. The exhilarating sense of speed as you dive and cut through the air is completely absent here, your glides feeling so limited in movement and even the launch ramp itself mere window dressing on what feels like a scripted animation. Now I know many will probably question if this even matters for newcomers but putting being a fan aside for the moment, the lack of energy and velocity in the flying itself results in an experience that glides from disinterest into boredom. Even fifty or so rounds under my belt, I still hope this take on Monkey Target clicks at some point – and I’m sure that will likely never come – but what I can be sure of, is this is easily the biggest disappointment in this whole package.
The obvious visual update isn’t the only thing new when it comes to Super Monkey Ball: Banana Mania, the game also offering a number of neat extras. From an accessibility perspective, the introduction of options to skip particularly troublesome levels entirely, slow down time (making precision movements easier) and even the choice to do away with lives entirely are much-appreciated additions. Super Monkey Ball: Banana Mania just like the originals can get very tough and thanks to these aids, players won’t need to worry about missing out on any content regardless of skill level. As you play you’ll find yourself earning points, these used to unlock a wealth of bonuses that include cosmetics, new characters (some of these reaching outside the Super Monkey Ball universe) and extra modes. The latter in particular is especially interesting as they not only incorporate levels in their original form (adjustments removed) and from Super Monkey Ball Deluxe, but even modes that focus on avoiding or collecting bananas. Not every addition feels like a home run however, the new soundtrack is particularly forgetful and not a patch on the tunes found in the original games. While you’ll be able to purchase the original soundtrack as DLC, it feels like the sort of thing that should have been in the base package.
After years of mediocrity for AiAi and the crew, there was always the worry SEGA might drop the ball when it came to a Super Monkey Ball 20th anniversary celebration. Thankfully, Super Monkey Ball: Banana Mania is a great remaster of the series’ best years packed full of content and given a handsome facelift. The major downgrade of the much-loved Monkey Target aside, there’s still plenty of fun to be had here fan or newcomer.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by SEGA