Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD is the return of the beloved franchise, but is this HD port bananas or does it slip on a peel?
My first memories of the Super Monkey Ball franchise were that of wonder and excitement. With an interesting take on one of my favorite genres, platformers, it was a colorful and lively series that would undoubtedly be recalled in the future with nothing short of fondness.
My second memory of the Super Monkey Ball franchise is anger. Anger at fighting an unwieldy camera and unable to see for precious seconds. Anger at imprecise platforming that caused my cute monkey in a ball to tumble to their (temporary) demise. And anger at myself for going through the same frustrations again and again, as I chase the high of figuring out a particularly tricky section and beating the stage.
Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD, the port of the Wii-exclusive Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz released back in 2006, aims to bring back those highs and lows of emotion and redeliver that classic “just one more go” experience for new audiences. But how well does this title hold up, if at all?
Players take control of one of several monkey pals and roll them from the start point of each stage to its goal. Each monkey has its own stats which affect their movement speed, jump, bounce, weight (affects max speed), and the number of lives you start each new level with. So choosing one based on your preferred playstyle is vital, especially in the later stages where precision becomes the single most important deciding factor in your success.
In the main mode, aptly called Main Game, there are eight worlds in total and each world is made up of eight stages and a boss stage. The win condition in the normal stage is to make it through the goal ring at the end while also, collecting bananas scattered around to earn extra lives that can be used for the rest of the world. Falling completely outside the stage constitutes a “fall out” and you’re penalized by losing a life. However, though losing all your lives brings you to the continue screen, players have unlimited continues.
Boss stages are a good way to mix gameplay up and it truly tests all your acquired skills as you race against the clock to take down whatever mighty beast gets in your way. And while you don’t need to worry about your monkey’s health bar and the like, one good push out of the ring (or if you run out of time before depleting the boss’ HP) and you have to restart from the beginning of the fight.
The normal stages themselves are the biggest treat to me, as they start simple and then organically integrate obstacles and gimmicks in a way that builds on the rules of the overall world. Not to mention that because the “fall out” condition is so loosely defined, skilled players are free to experiment by jumping around different points in a stage and create their own shortcuts to shave time.
Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz smartly combines both puzzle and platforming aspects, testing your reflexes and quick thinking skills to create a satisfying experience. And for those who play through the main mode, Sonic the Hedgehog awaits as an unlockable character for all modes (and the bananas change to rings in his stages too!).
Feeding into that overall addictive quality to Super Monkey Ball are the two medals you can earn for each world: Clear Medal and Champion Medal. The Clear Medal is awarded when you successfully clear a world for the first time.
The real treat is the Champion Medal, which you only earn if you complete each stage in order and without using a single continue. This is what gives the Main Game its replayability value and boy, does it work. I even found myself angered when I couldn’t earn that medal on my first playthrough of a given world, especially when I was so close to beating it.
What I love most is that each stage is timed, ensuring its pacing is fast and efficient. It seems obvious, but stages that drag on too long can pull you out of the zone. Not to mention that having to restart the stage from the beginning would be painful if you spend a significant amount of time on it before falling out.
However, there are a couple of glaring issues that once uncovered can really mar the whole experience. Let’s say your monkey is perched in a tiny space, a millimeter away from the edge and somehow you’re facing the wrong way and need to about-face efficiently.
In this scenario the camera cannot manually be turned around, which would have been the ideal option for quick adjustments in a fast-paced level, and it does not automatically pivot with you as you turn the monkey around. What it does do is budge in such slow increments that you’re essentially forced to work backwards. And when you’re in a section that requires both speed and precision to solve all while being on a strict timer, this becomes problematic.
Another noticeable issue is the floatiness of the controls in general, particularly when required to jump on smaller platforms. This becomes especially apparent when combined with the high speeds most of the monkeys tend to build up before reaching said platforms. This requires you to stop your monkey and clumsily maneuver them around until you eventually work past the section.
The second major mode in Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz is Party Game, which essentially is the local multiplayer of the game. Up to three other players can join you and compete in ten different party games such as Whack-a Mole, Hurdle Race, Monkey Snowboard, and more. My personal favorites are the Dangerous Route and Hammer Throw, but that’s not saying much since I couldn’t find much enjoyment in the other mini-games due to the ridiculously clunky controls.
Veterans of the original Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz may notice that I stated ten party games. Unfortunately the number of minigames has been decreased from the original 50. Even more unfortunate is that, as noted above, the remaining ten haven’t been polished or enhanced in any fashion. Meaning that there is actual less content in the enhanced port version of this title.
There are two other modes, Time Attack and Decathlon. The former has you attempt to get the fastest clear time in the Main Game, in which the results are posted on the worldwide leaderboard. The latter is a similar global competition, except you complete all of the party games for the highest overall score. While amusing, the fact that I can’t directly play with other players around the world instead severely hampers things and relegates these modes to “tacked- on” status.
Honestly speaking, you could skip all three modes and stick to Main Game, which is what I ended up going back to after trying out everything else.
If you’ve noticed that I haven’t touched much on any other differences between the original Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz and this HD port, that’s because there aren’t any. Visuals are essentially the same quality with a high definition buff added, making the colors more vibrant and giving the graphics overall a cleaner look.
Overall, Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD has a solid single- player mode that, if not slightly lacking in content, gives players an addictive rush that makes them want to come back for more. But that same heady rush is often tempered by controls that become your biggest obstacles at times. Paired with an extremely weak multiplayer experience that is missing a huge chunk of content, Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz becomes harder to recommend.
I would still suggest the game on the strength of the Main Game alone, but just know that you’re getting a smaller scale title than you might have bargained for.