Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania Review: It Won’t Quite You
RRP $ 40.00
“Super Monkey Ball: Banana Mania is a welcome but imprecise remake that lacks detail.”
High resolution graphics
Lots of customization options
New modes and ways to play
Classic soundtrack available as DLC
Stages without details
Unforgettable story and soundtrack
Some weak party games
While 20 years have passed since the original Super Monkey Ball was released, the game remains true to its arcade roots. That coin-op influence is still felt in Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania, the franchise’s newest installment.
Banana Mania is an “extended” HD remake for PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PS5, Xbox One and Xbox Series X / S. It combines all the courses from the first three games in the series: Super Monkey Ball, Super Monkey Ball 2 and Super Monkey Ball Deluxe, the last of which was just a compilation of the first two games and Banana Mania effectively became a compilation of a compilation. The game was developed by Ryu Ga Gotoku, a Sega-affiliated development team with strong connections to Amusement Visions (the developer of the original game) and published by Sega.
I went to Banana Mania and expected the best. Super Monkey Ball was a staple of my childhood: spending long hours huddled around the TV with my younger sister, handing the controller back and forth as we tried to torment our way through the expert level. We yelled at each other as we blew up our monkeys in Monkey Race and pushed each other off the stage in Monkey Fight. We both played the original game so many times that at that point it was mostly muscle memory. In stark contrast, I mostly played Banana Mania alone, curled up on my sofa, trying to figure out each phase for myself.
While the game is undeniably Monkey Ball, it felt like Monkey Ball through a filter: distorted and just different enough to get me off my game. It’s more of a chore than a fun flashback.
The main attraction
Banana Mania draws its narrative and many of its phases from the story mode of Super Monkey Ball Deluxe. The friendly monkeys AiAi, MeeMee, GonGon and Baby just want to enjoy some bananas, but the nefarious Dr. Bad-Boon steals them all and sends the monkeys on a journey through the world of the game to get their yellow fruits back. The story plays a much smaller role than in Deluxe; There is no dialogue and very little actual story content. It’s more of a disgustingly cute loose thread that connects the game’s themed worlds. After seeing the first short cutscenes, I wanted to skip them and just get on with the stages. Narrative is not really a strong (or necessary) part of Monkey Ball. The complete courses of Monkey Balls 1 and 2 are also considered part of the main game and are referred to as “Challenges”.
The gameplay retains the arcade-y, point-oriented feel of the original titles while doing a few tweaks to ensure Banana Mania doesn’t look like it was ripped out of an arcade cabinet. I no longer had to worry about using up my whole life or losing my points after falling off a stage too many times, which made things easier. The stages range from frustratingly satisfying to simply frustrating: nothing compares to that Dark Souls-like feeling when you finally make it through a difficult phase, but most of the time you just want to spam the new helper mode or use points to skip stages. The game aims to remove many of the frustrations that come with getting stuck at a certain stage, but make no mistake, Banana Mania is just as tough as the other games in the series.
It doesn’t feel improved, just different.
Even so, the harshness often feels unfair. Much of Deluxe’s time-based level design won’t hold up in 2021, and the new stages are tricky rather than challenging. The controls feel both too stiff and too sensitive, and fighting the camera was often more difficult than actually completing a level. The challenge courses of Monkey Balls 1 and 2 feel mostly the same, but the physics and movement potential are just so different that my GameCube muscle memory has failed. It doesn’t feel improved, just different.
The game includes a variety of “party games” from the history of the series. These mini-games range from the more traditional ones like Monkey Bowling and Monkey Soccer to the more unusual ones like Monkey Dogfight and Monkey Boat. The quality of the games also ranges from pretty good to terrible. Monkey billiards is great fun and the AI is strong enough to keep you busy. It also includes a new user interface that will help you aim your shot better than ever. Monkey Baseball, a simplified form of baseball that plays similarly to Toy Field mode in Super Mario Baseball, is also fun once you master the stiff controls.
The game includes a variety of “party games” from the history of the series. The quality of these mini-games ranges from pretty good to terrible.
On the other hand, Monkey Boat is terrible. Despite HD and 4K upscaling, the water textures retain the transparency of the GameCube era and the courses are boring in both graphics and gameplay. Monkey Target takes away all of the fun of the original by skewing the controls to the point where it is almost impossible to land on the targets, which above all makes it an exercise in frustration. Most of the other games are just … fine. Many of them now contain archaic, meter-based mechanics for determining strength, which feel antiquated in the age of motion control.
When you are tired of the main story and party games, you can spend a little time decorating your monkey and trying out new modes. The game features a large number of playable characters from Sega’s history, including Sonic and Tails, Kazyma Kiryu from Yakuza, and Beat from Jet Set Radio. There are a variety of costumes and ball styles that can be purchased with points earned through the main game and party games. The shop also sells unique stages that come with different modes that do everything from reversing the starting point and destination area of the stages to converting the normally scoring bananas into items to avoid.
Banana Mania is pretty generous with its points: I was able to buy pretty much anything I wanted in the store simply by playing a couple of the main story worlds and each of the party games once. The costumes are cute and I like to customize my monkey.
The devil is in the details
In many places the game has made a conscious decision to optimize or adapt details from the original Monkey Ballgames, especially when it comes to the sound. While some of the sound effects are nostalgic, others have been completely removed – why doesn’t there make a sound when your monkey’s ball is moving extremely fast? The speaker’s voice is also a bit annoying, although that was never Monkey Ball’s forte. (Why is “foul” pronounced like “foal” in Monkey Baseball ?!) One thing that was the show’s forte was completely botched here: the music. Banana Mania’s soundtrack is utterly forgetful and pales in comparison to the funky grooves of the original Super Monkey Ball. Do yourself a favor and get the original soundtrack DLC for $ 5.
One thing that was the show’s strong point was totally botched here: the music.
You’d think that in an HD remake it would make sense to upgrade the original game’s environments to at least the standard of today’s Switch games, but the environments look the same as in the original game, only sharper. In many cases this means that part of my screen has been taken up by a huge HD area of relative nothing. I would have loved to see more details, or at least some upgrades, to the 20 year old Super Monkey Ball worlds of Monkey Mall and Desert, but they look essentially the same, and that’s not a great thing.
Super Monkey Ball: Banana Mania should include everything fans love about the series: skill-based difficulty, great music, fun mini-games, and excellent replayability with a good group of friends by your side. Unfortunately, this collection feels like a hasty remake that throws the precise controls and stellar music of the original tracks overboard. The charm and fun gameplay of the original games are still there, but this remake doesn’t feel like a huge improvement over the classics.
How long it will take?
Super Monkey Ball games are infinitely repeatable and Banana Mania is no exception. The game features online leaderboards and time leaderboards, which means that players who really want to get the best out of times will have plenty to do. Those who are less competitive are better off sticking to the local multiplayer of party games.
Is there an alternative?
If you’re looking for newer levels, Super Monkey Ball Banana Blitz is available for Nintendo Switch. If you want to experience the original stages in all their arcade glory, check your local retro game store for a copy of Super Monkey Ball or Super Monkey Ball 2.
Should you buy it?
Yes sir. If you’re new to the series and want to try it out (or don’t own a GameCube or Wii), Banana Mania is worth a try, if only to experience the original stages and music. But if you’ve never been curious, this imperfect remake of the series isn’t going to sell you.