Sega have been busy in the last couple of years, and at least some of that time has been spent coaxing a series of simians into a waiting bank of spheres for another bout of Monkey Ball. First appearing on the Nintendo GameCube, the original game relied on pin-sharp analogue controls as you tilted the landscape around, rolling those encased apes around to help tehm collect a bevy of bananas and reach the exit before time runs out. Several generations later, with decades of work that has pushed video games to new heights, Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania does the only sensible thing by bringing the original games back.
It’s always hard to innovate when the crux of your game is based on those classic wooden puzzle mazes with ball bearings in. Yes, they require finesse and good reactions, but there’s not a great deal of depth to them. More recent Monkey Ball games managed to iterate on the original by adding in the ability to jump *gasp*, and fight bosses *ooooooo*, but they’ve simply never managed to capture the simple magic of the first two titles.
Sega understand that, and Banana Mania remasters the levels from the first two titles and the extra content from Monkey Ball Deluxe. There’s over 300 levels drawn from these original games, and they’ve all been given a suitable shine up for the here and now. If you’ve been playing since the beginning, you’ll be well aware that the original levels are simply better designed, and manage to make collecting bananas fun rather than placing them in seemingly arbitrary places designed to annoy you. There’s still some of that arbitrariness, which I’m going to blame on Super Monkey Ball Deluxe, but RGG Studio has gone back and rebalanced some of the meaner levels.
Sega fans will enjoy the fact that there’s a small number of Sega stars to take the place of the simians, and you can unlock that speedy blue hedgehog as well as Jet Set Radio’s Beat or, unexpectedly, Kazuma Kiryu from Yakuza. These additions make little to no difference to the way the game plays, unless you count collecting rings instead of bananas as a significant change, but you might get a laugh or two about Kazuma rolling around a bunch of arcade levels collecting health drinks. There’s going to be more available via DLC as well.
Besides the unlockable characters there’s a series of outfits to spend your hard-earned points on, stretching from top hats and headphones to shirts with bananas on and rollerskates. It’s disappointingly limited and frankly there isn’t anything wild enough to match Kazuma’s charisma. If you’re going to let us play dress up there needs to be enough options to keep us coming back. You’re far better served saving up your points to buy the challenge modes that add Reverse mode, Dark Banana mode and more.
While there’s the main single-player shenanigans spread across the Main Game and Challenges, as well as the internet savvy online Ranking Challenges where you can see how you stack up against players from around the world, you might want hop into a batch of multiplayer party games. These include the iconic Monkey Target, Monkey Billiards and Monkey Golf, with all twelve of the greats from Deluxe available.
There’s definitely some longevity to these party classics, and not just when enjoyed with a friend in the comfort of your own home. The ability to take some of them online to climb the leaderboards is teeth-gnashingly annoying, but also plenty of good, solid fun. You can find yourself caught in a Monkey Target rabbit hole as you try again and again to land your monkeys on far-off targets after gliding through the air on their opened balls. It makes no sense, but then it never did. The only shame is that there isn’t an online option for all of them.
Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania does at least update the technical side of things, and on Xbox Series X and PS5, or indeed any of the 4K-equipped consoles, you’re getting the sharpest ball monkeys yet. The visuals are otherwise as bright and simplistic as they’ve ever been. They look nice, but no one is likely to be wowed. That’s not really the point. That simplicity makes it a perfect fit for the Nintendo Switch, where it looks as sharp as you would hope for, outside of some lacking texture filtering.