Super Monkey Ball: Banana Mania is a puzzle platformer that serves as a new HD remaster of three previous games in the series, Super Monkey Ball 1, 2, and Deluxe, which itself was a collection of 1 and 2.
Super Monkey Ball: Banana Mania is a classic arcade-style game, light on story, emphasis on getting a high score, and requires a lot of dedication to get good at despite its cartoony style, but it does offer a few tweaks to help new players. Ultimately this is a game that’s more for hardcore banana maniacs but it’s still a pretty fun game to have the occasional roll around in.
It is worth noting that I have never played a Monkey Ball game before this however I’ve tried to keep an open mind when playing the game and overall I had a pretty good time with this one.
Getting the ball rolling
Super Monkey Ball: Banana Mania is divided into several modes with the main one being ‘story mode’ where you go through the over 300 stages from the first three games. If you’re here to revisit the series you’re certainly getting your money’s worth of content.
The main premise of the game is that you control a Monkey in a small capsule ball and must lead it towards the goal at the end of the stage. What is interesting here is that you do not actually control the monkey but rather the stage itself and you must roll the monkey towards the goal.
Leading the ball can be a slippery affair and combined with the various platforms and obstacles that can lead to some pretty tough platforming. Simply tilting the ball until it charges at full throttle will likely lead to it careening off the edge but playing a more stop and start slow approach may lead to you being knocked off by an obstacle or running the time limit for the stage so you can’t take it too safe either. It’s all about thinking through your approach to the stage, and going at a good speed.
The physics of the game are really good, the ball has a good amount of weight to it, not too heavy but not frail and slippery. The tilting of the stage also handles well. When I heard about the mechanic, I was afraid it would be too sensitive like a slight tilt of the analog stick would create a steep tilt but it feels very natural and easily pulls you into the game, making for a very pick up and play experience. I, unfortunately, couldn’t say the same about the PS4 motion controls which felt pretty unwieldy and awkward but thankfully, they are optional and can be ignored.
Playing Hard Ball
All of this being said, you will die a lot while playing the game, and there’s is definitely a trial and error cycle when playing the later levels. You tend to get to know the levels better after failing on them a few times but this is balanced by the game’s quality of life additions. Even though you die a lot, the levels are all very short, the actual timer for each level is one minute and upon death, you are instantly loaded to the start of the stage to try again. It’s a very forgiving game that understands that you’re gonna die a lot and does not penalize you for doing so. This means that I never felt too frustrated while playing, even after dying on the same stage around 20 times.
There are also some quality-of-life features to help with the difficulty. After dying a few times on one stage, the player is offered a ‘helped mode’ with lengthens the time limit, creates a line to the goal, and allows you to slow time to more easily handle the obstacles. If you get too stuck, you can also just skip the stage entirely although this costs in-game points. These are nice features as it means that you’re never stuck for too long and can carry on with the game.
I will say though that with so many stages, the game does start feeling a little repetitive after a while and even with the skipping features the difficulty curve maybe a little too sharp. By the 3 or 4th world, unless you are a Monkey Ball veteran you’ll likely be dying multiple times on each stage to the point that it might become tedious to continue.
I think the game is best suited for a system like a Switch where you can really pick it up up and play it in shirt burst rather than a more sit-down play for hours at the time kind of game.
The World of Monke
The plot of the story is really nothing to write home about. Between each of the worlds, you watch little cutscenes told through a slide show like a display using puppets on television. These are implied to be retellings of the Monkey’s past adventures in the previous games, kinda like this is one big clip show episode where the characters sit around and reminisce on the previous episodes. It does make sense for a compilation I guess, but without dialogue, the imagery is so abstract I can’t always tell what’s going on.
I understand that this is the kind of game that doesn’t aim to have a deep plot but if you’re going to include a ‘story’ in ‘story mode’ I think it should be one that the players can properly understand even if it’s simple.
The music of the game is serviceable but nothing too noteworthy. It’s mostly upbeat and fitting with the fast pace of the game. The graphics are pretty vibrant and colorful which suits the game and there is a surprising variety of different worlds for the monkeys to traverse from a lava world to an ocean world to a sci-fi space shift looking world.
Completing more of the levels and min games also gives you in-game points. These can be used to buy a bunch of collectibles including new costumes, music, and characters including some crossover characters like Sonic, Tails, Kazuma Kiryu from Yakuza, and even a Sega Game Gear, Dreamcast, and Saturn. Later on Morgana for Persona 5, Hello Kitty, and Suezo from Monster Rancher are showing up as DLC. If you’re looking for a new Sega All-Stars game, this might actually scratch that itch.
The Monkey Party Games
Aside from the main game, Super Monkey Ball: Banana Mania also has a collection of minigames to play. These can range from Mokey Fight, a sumo-like battle mode where you attempt to drive other monkeys off of the stage. There’s also Monkey Race a racing game that is kind of like a light version of Mario Kart, complete with items you pick up around the course to use against the other racers.
The most interesting however is Monkey Shoot, a rail shooter game across several levels. It feels like a monkey version of Sega’s House of The Dead games with precise shooting, finding time to reload, and several powerup weapons to collect.
These games act as a decent distraction from the main game and help bring more content to the collection but ultimately get old pretty fast and aren’t worth returning to after an initial play around.
It also doesn’t help that you can’t use any of the unlockable characters in this mode which isn’t a big deal but you do wish they would have gone the extra while considering the models are already on the disk.
The Challange of Challange Modes
The game also offers missions, which are really like in-game achievements and will reward you points for each that you achieve, like completing the different stages and under different circumstances like doing so on the first try.
There is also the ranking challenge, which has you play through each in an attempt to get a high score. These are based on the number of deaths you get, the time taken, and the collectibles you catch. Once completed your high score can then be posted on to online leader boards so that everyone may see that you are the master of the ball. You can even race a ghost of the fastest player to see if you can beat them. However, other than not having cutscenes, there’s pretty much different than story mode which does make the challenge mode even more lackluster.
I’ve heard that in previous Monkey Ball games, the player is given a set number of lives and it would be game over if they ran out. Even though I’m glad there are infinite retries with story mode, I think having limited lives for challenge mode would have been better since it would make it more, well, challenging. It would make the player work harder to complete that high score and further differentiate it from story mode.
Final Thoughts on Super Monkey Ball: Banana Mania
Super Monkey Ball: Banana Mania has a solid base game. The over 300 levels mean that you’ve got a lot of courses to run through and the accessibility and quality of life improvements mean that it’s far easier to get into. That being said it is a game that can get tiring in long bursts due to the high difficulty and somewhat repetitive stages.
The extra content while not bad also does not add a lot to the game with both the mini-games and challenge feeling solid but ultimately just kind of forgettable.
Overall, this is a good one if you want to get into the Super Monkey Ball series but just be prepared for a few of its downsides when you decide to take your first roll.
Super Monkey Ball: Banana Mania
- Good Quality of Life Features
- Core Gameplay is well crafted and fun
- Lots of content with the large amount of stages
- Mini games are lacklustre
- Can be repetitive after a while
- The Learning curve can be too steep at times