I have very fond memories of playing the first two Super Monkey Ball games on the GameCube. Sega took the old tabletop game of tilting the maze in order to make the marble roll into the goal and revamped the concept by turning it into a fun video game. While some got hooked on the ever-increasingly difficult single player courses, many kept coming back for the wacky and highly entertaining multiplayer mini-games. When the Wii launched back in 2006, Sega was back with a motion-controlled sequel that received mixed reviews upon release. That game has been redesigned with current consoles in mind and even has a slightly revamped title: Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD.
Those new to the series will find that the game is rather simple to learn. You are a monkey in a ball, which always reminds me of my childhood when we had hamsters running around the house in similar fashion. The goal is to roll your ball to the goal while also trying to collect as many bananas as you can. You are rewarded for your timeliness, so it’s best not to twiddle your thumbs for too long. As soon as you hit that goal your score will be tabulated and you’ll be whisked away to the next stage. As you progress the various courses will become more complex and hazardous with plenty of spots for you to fall off to your death.
Most likely to make each version play the same, motion controls have been completely ripped out of Banana Blitz HD. While some had issues with the finicky motion elements in the Wii version, many actually enjoyed them. I’m somewhat surprised that Sega didn’t offer up both methods of controls to appeal to a wider audience. Unlike the GameCube versions there is a jump button that allows your ball to pop up off the level at any time. I found that to be useful in later stages, but it definitely takes some getting used to in order to properly land where you intend. I remember the GameCube versions to have very accurate controls, making great use of the analog stick. Unfortunately that’s not the case with the Switch version, where it always seems like the sticks are too sensitive. There is an option to adjust the sensitivity, but I never could quite get them perfect. Although I usually play my games with the Switch Pro Controller, I found using the Joy-Cons worked better and gave me slightly improved control. I’m not sure if the developers calibrated the game to work with the shorter analog sticks of the Joy-Con or what, but I saw a noticeable improvement when using them.
For some odd reason the developers decided that this Monkey Ball game needed bosses. So, after you’ve played through several normal maze stages you’ll have to fight an enemy. I suppose that’s the real reason there’s a jump button in this game, as you’ll often have to jump on top of the enemy or its projectiles to destroy it. I’m not a huge fan of these encounters as the controls never felt spot-on enough to properly deal with them. Sure, I was able to brute force my way through, but they never felt fun or exciting and I never looked forward to them.
Graphically the game has never looked better. The graphics are bright and colorful and the game runs super smooth. There are a variety of characters to play as (including a certain unlockable blue blur) and the graphics really shine on both the TV and handheld. The music and sound effects are upbeat and cute and really accentuate the visuals rather nicely.
In addition to the single player affair you have ten multiplayer mini-games to play through. You can do this via local couch competitive and many of these have appeared in previous titles. These range from pretty fun to downright annoying, depending on your group of friends. Even though the games use the analog stick, we found some of the game rather difficult to control and the learning curve on a few of them was especially cruel. For a game that looks like it should appeal to a younger audience, some of them are surprisingly challenging. New to the game is a Decathlon mode that allows you to compete for the best score by playing all of the mini-games. The game also includes an online leaderboard so you can compare.
Taken as a whole, Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD is still a fun experience, despite some of the aforementioned criticisms. It’s not a game that will light up the sales charts, but there’s a decent amount of content here and it’s a fun game to play in short bursts. I enjoyed the single player content more than the multiplayer and in the end I couldn’t help but wish Sega had just brought over the first two games as an HD collection. Still, if you’ve been itching for some Monkey Ball, this should satiate that thirst.
Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD Review
- Graphics - 7.5/107.5/10
- Sound - 8/108/10
- Gameplay - 5/105/10
- Lasting Appeal - 6.5/106.5/10
Final Thoughts: GOOD
Normally when a company goes through the trouble of converting a game to HD they choose the best in the series, but Sega has decided to bring Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD to current video game consoles. While not a bad game by any means, I think most would consider the first two GameCube games the best in the series. This one is still just as zany and does deliver in the fun department, but sensitive controls, needless boss battles, and ho-hum multiplayer mini-games hold it back from true greatness.