When we talk about Monkey Ball around these parts, it’s not long until we’re talking about the 0.1 string. It’s a pathway on the eleventh course of the original Super Monkey Ball’s advanced set of levels, and it embodies everything that’s great about Sega’s series. There are other, easier pathways available on the level – modelled on a electric guitar, with its six strings presenting six paths of varying width – but to be a Monkey Ball master is to nail the 0.1 string every time, matching pixel to pixel and pushing the GameCube’s analogue stick into place for the perfect run. It’s risk, reward and perfect control all slotted into one.
I don’t think the 0.1 string would work so well without the eccentricities of the GameCube’s pad, in particular the little octagon that the analogue stick sat in and which allowed you to lock into any one of eight directions. Indeed, there’s something about Super Monkey Ball that felt perfectly attuned to the console, which is probably why in turn I think the first Super Monkey Ball remains the closest the series has ever flown to perfection. Every iteration since has only muddied the formula, or twisted it in wayward directions.
There’s unlikely any more controversial meddling with that formula than 2007’s Wii launch title Super Monkey Ball Banana Blitz, which introduced a jump button, boss battles and – clutch those pearls, people – motion controls. And, being a Wii game, it also featured a morass of mini-games, with some 50 of the things providing an afternoon’s diversion as you tried to see if there was anything of worth in its shallows.
It’s a curious choice for a remaster, then – especially when the first game is crying out for a re-release – but a revisionist take on the original Banana Blitz does reap some rewards. The motion controls have been stripped out completely, the mini-games have been whittled down to the ten essentials and what you’re left with is what, at times, feels like a worthy sequel to the original brace of Super Monkey Ball games.
It’s a different type of Monkey Ball, sure, though the addition of a jump button isn’t quite as sacrilegious as I once thought; it makes Banana Blitz feel more like a traditional platform game, but one with the fidelity of control of the original Monkey Ball games, combined with the element of chance of pinball as you bounce around precarious paths. It’s used sparingly enough – there’s still a decent amount of good old-fashioned Monkey Ball traversal here – and simply adds a nice bit of added spice to the old formula.
The boss battles less so, though. They’re a clumsily designed bunch, with glowing weak spots, telegraphed movement patterns and a stubborn camera that never really wants to play along. They’re awful things, really.
As are the mini-games. They might have stripped away the truly turgid examples of the Wii original, but that’s not to say the ten that still stand are any good. There’s a half-decent shooter, a fun gauntlet run that’s taken top-down so you’ve little foresight of what’s coming next and a snowboarding game that’s a decent enough diversion for a couple of minutes. Oh, and Monkey Target is there, but it’s utterly anaemic compared to the real deal. A Decathalon feature allows you to run through all ten and tot up a high score to register on online leaderboards, but so arduous are a handful of the mini-games that it’s still something of a chore.
So that leaves you, really, with the 100 or so levels that form the main adventure in Super Monkey Ball Banana Blitz. And they’re fine, providing a decent challenge and with the flavour that the jump adds making it feel distinctive. Maps have been rejigged to be that little bit tougher now that you’ll no longer be wrestling with the motion controls, and towards the end this can be a seriously hardcore thing.
There’s something about it that just feels off, though, and there’s no escaping that this was a game originally built around motion controls. Decoupled from them, Banana Blitz is a decent enough Monkey Ball experience. The only problem is, by offering a retooling, you’re never going to get anything as refined as Monkey Ball was in its absolute pomp.