Review: Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania manages to avoid slipping up
Sega’s HD remaster is a great celebration of three classic games
- Producer / Director
- Masao Shirosaki
- Key Credits
- Youichi Ishikawa (Lead programmer), Michio Abe (Lead artist)
The best games are often the ones that can appeal to complete amateurs and long-time devotees while providing the same, uncompromised experience to both.
There are few better examples of this than Super Monkey Ball. The arcade game turned GameCube launch title was one of the most popular early offerings on Nintendo’s system, and the best first foot forward Sega could have placed after its decision to stop making consoles and go third-party.
The Monkey Ball series has returned in infrequent sequels over the years, but it’s the initial trilogy of Super Monkey Ball, Super Monkey Ball 2 and Super Monkey Ball Deluxe that (quite literally) encapsulated the series’ simplistic genius, before other gimmicks such as touchscreens, motion controls and jump buttons were added to the mix.
Super Monkey Ball: Banana Mania returns to that original trilogy and gives them a modern-day remaster, using the same engine as 2019’s Wii remaster Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD.
The return to the series’ roots is a welcome one, not least because it gives Monkey Ball fans and complete newcomers alike another chance to enjoy Toshihiro Nagoshi’s creation in its purest form.
If you’ve managed to avoid playing Super Monkey Ball up to this point, the central concept is the very definition of ‘easy to learn, hard to master’. Each stage consists of an obstacle course with a goal at the end, along with a monkey in a giant ball. The player has to tilt the stage with the analogue stick to guide the monkey to the exit without either falling off the edge or running out of time.
Each stage is also littered with bananas, which can be collected for extra points (and, in this game, earn you coins that can be spent on unlockables). These are entirely optional but help provide that extra challenge for those who feel they need it.
And that’s literally it. The success of the game, then, lies in its simplicity. It’s hard to think of many full-price games that would get away with basing its entire control system on just one analogue stuck and nothing else, but Monkey Ball does it. The buttons do nothing, this is purely about navigating that ball to the goal.
“It’s hard to think of many full-price games that would get away with basing its entire control system on just one analogue stuck and nothing else, but Monkey Ball does it.”
By combining Super Monkey Ball 1, 2 and Deluxe in one package, Banana Mania offers players a huge selection of stages to make their way through.
This includes the return of the 100-stage Story Mode from Super Monkey Ball 2, although its CGI cutscenes have been replaced by far less charming sequences that play out almost like animated comics. Story Mode also has to be played in a set order, rather than letting players choose which stage to take on next.
As well as the Story mode and the other main stages from the first two games (now listed as Challenge Mode), there are also a handful of ‘special modes’, which can be unlocked in the game’s Points Shop.
These include the option to play through the 46 extra stages added to Deluxe, as well as an Original Stage mode, which takes 23 levels from the games that had been tweaked to make them a little easier, and restores them to their original near-impossible difficulty.
Other special modes include Reverse mode (which flips the start and goal in some stages), Golden Banana mode (which removes the goal and makes the player collect every banana before time runs out) and Dark Banana mode (which adds poison bananas that end your run if you hit them).
Thankfully, it takes hardly any time to earn enough coins to unlock these modes, along with anything else you have your eye on in the Points Shop. The game happily throws coins at players for almost everything they do, meaning it’s possible to achieve a nice collection of currency within just an hour or two, enough to unlock most of the modes or some guest characters.
As has been widely reported before launch, the game features Sonic, Tails, Beat from Jet Set Radio and Kazuma Kiryu from the Yakuza series, and with more on the way as DLC (including Hello Kitty) it’s clear that Sega sees this special guest feature as a potential cash cow (or moolah monkey, if you will) going forwards.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Monkey Ball without the mini-games, and all 12 from Super Monkey Ball Deluxe return here with support for up to four players.
Everyone has their own personal favourite game so we won’t dwell too much on whether Monkey Fight or Monkey Target is the best (spoiler: it’s the latter), but each game has a strong variety of options, ensuring a fun night with pals.
The main issue some will have with this remaster – and it’s one that will only affect a fraction of the most die-hard players – is that there are some slight differences to the game’s feel.
Given that it makes use of the Unity Engine, which didn’t even exist when the original games were released, it’s clear that no matter how accurate this remaster was going to be there were always going to be variations in the physics.
“Given that it makes use of the Unity Engine, which didn’t even exist when the original games were released, it’s clear that no matter how accurate this remaster was going to be there were always going to be variations in the physics.”
While 99% of players will barely notice the difference, the elite players of the Monkey Ball community who’ve been playing the originals for two decades now will obviously notice some slight changes, and may find that some of their shortcuts may require some adjustment (if they even work at all).
One thing we should also point out is that on occasion we noticed some odd stuttering when the camera turned at times (at least on our PS5 review version). While our analysis of the footage we captured showed that the game was still delivering a stable 60 frames per second, there are times when turning the camera round where a new frame will update other elements – spinning bananas, the timer at the top of the screen – but doesn’t move the stage, leading to a slightly jarring stutter.
This is an extremely minor point in the grand scheme of things, however, and the vast majority of players likely won’t even give it any thought: all they’ll know is that the game still plays great.
The game’s longevity is also boosted with the addition of the Ranking Challenge mode, which lets players take on any of the Story mode’s worlds or the full Super Monkey Ball 1 and 2 stage sets and try to complete them all in the quickest time possible, then upload their times online.
This is oddly compelling and we found ourselves spending an inordinate amount of time trying to better our for the ten stages in Story mode World 1 alone. We’d imagine that budding speedrunners will be glued to this mode trying to improve their best times and nudge their way up the leaderboards.
The only disappointment here is that the game doesn’t automatically save replays of players’ Ranking Challenge performances. A game like Super Monkey Ball has all manner of sneaky shortcuts, and it would have been fantastic to see how other players manipulated the game’s stage mechanics to pull off the more impressive times at the top of each leaderboard.
“A game like Super Monkey Ball has all manner of sneaky shortcuts, and it would have been fantastic to see how other players manipulated the game’s stage mechanics to pull off the more impressive times at the top of each leaderboard.”
There’s also a Missions screen on the main menu which breaks practically every aspect of the game down into 747 individual achievements, each of which earns the player coins upon completion.
For example, each individual stage in Story mode has three missions: one for clearing the stage, one for doing so without the new help function (which doubles the timer and lets you slow the game down) and one for performing a bespoke task different for each stage.
This could be reaching the goal with a certain number of bananas, doing it within a certain time or finishing through the special green goal instead of the standard blue one. Regardless, these tasks ensure that ticking off every mission will take an ungodly number of hours.
Super Monkey Ball’s HD re-release reinforces its status as one of the most flexible games ever made, able to cater to all skill levels at once.
Beginners and children will have fun just making their way through each of the game’s courses and simply trying to reach the end, but the mechanics and concept are both flexible enough that those same stages kids can happily roll through are also capable of infuriating experts.
Trying to collect every banana within each stage’s strict time limit remains one of gaming’s most challenging tests, and the air will turn blue more than once as you try (and fail countless times) to pull it off on some of the more complex levels.
Banana Mania is a joyous celebration of what are still arguably the three best games in the series. There are a few slight performance issues and we have no doubt die-hards will argue about the overall feel, but there's a wealth of entertaining banana-hunting here regardless.
- Retains that simple yet infinitely compelling Monkey Ball gameplay
- All 12 mini-games are present and accounted for
- Ranking Challenge mode's online leaderboard ensures longevity
- A fun selection of guest characters included in the base game
- It's a real shame you can't view replays of other player's leaderboard entries