- Release Date (NA): October 5, 2021
- Release Date (EU): October 5, 2021
- Publisher: SEGA
- Developer: Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio
- Genres: Arcade, Monkey Ball
- Also For: Computer, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S
Originally created by Amusement Vision in 2001, Super Monkey Ball is a long-running series with a simple to grasp concept. Get your ball-encased monkey to the goal, and do it quickly. Against the clock and your only form of control being rotating the world itself, the original games gained a reputation for themselves in their deceptively-gruelling difficulty. As an anthology of the first Super Monkey Ball, Super Monkey Ball 2, and the additional stages of Super Monkey Ball Deluxe, as well as a colossal collection of series minigames and bonus modes, Banana Mania serves as an accessible way to jump into some classic levels. Just how do they hold up 20 years later?
To cut to the chase, the levels themselves are just as good as they always were, and boy do you have a lot of them to get through. It's a mammoth task getting through two story modes, and ten challenge modes of varying difficulty. If you're a fan of the old games but haven't played in a while you'll feel right at home, and be able to recognise all your favourites on show. With the game now running in Unity though, it should be noted there are some differences from the original outings. For my casual eye it feels just as good as it always did, but for series veterans who have perhaps revisited the original titles more frequently, you should expect your muscle memory to be a little off. Weirdly, the part that took the most adjustment for me was trying out the non-monkey characters. My mind just couldn't rationalise rings, apples, or random pill bottles where bananas should be.
There's more to the game than just the levels though, with missions being a surprising breath of fresh air to areas of the game I've otherwise become really quite familiar with. In the story modes you have three or four additional challenges to attempt on top of the usual monkey into goal tape objective. Each level usually having missions to beat it in a set amount of time, collect a certain number of bananas, and beating it without any helper functions, you're also tasked with finding hidden goals from time to time. Where in the original games' story modes these green goals would serve no purpose, their actual use being skipping levels in the challenge mode, you're incentivised to try out new things you may have previously overlooked. The banana objectives in particular stand out for this. There are a good number of levels across both games that are simple to rush through, but for those stopping to smell the bananas, things get complicated. The earliest example of this I could find is on 1-5 of Super Monkey Ball's story, Conveyers. Where you can beat the stage incredibly easily by holding up on your analogue stick and using the starting momentum to pass straight over the titular conveyer belts, you soon find how powerful they are after you lose speed to collect bananas. The more I play, the more I discover small pieces and gems nestled within levels I had once zoomed through. It's really refreshing and adds a layer of replayability to a previously once-and-done mode.
There is a stress and joy you will only find in Super Monkey Ball.
The challenge modes have these missions too, but they're a little more rigid in how they test you. For each difficulty level, you have three missions: beat the difficulty, beat it without using any helper functions, and beat it within a set number of lives. On top of this, your time in beating the challenge mode is recorded for you to try to beat in future. It's nice and it's presented well, but for the challenge modes I can't help but feel a large part of the challenge has been removed from the game with disappearance of lives. In the original titles these modes were a huge challenge, particularly on higher difficulties, due to the limitations on how many attempts you could have before having to start over. It was tough, terribly so, but it made the completion all that much sweeter. I can't think of a better example of this than watching Twitch streamer Atrioc spend more than an hour on the 30 stage advanced course of the first game. It took several attempts, but with dedication and passion, you could see the pride and unbridled joy that came with beating it. It's not to say there's no satisfaction to be found now, and you can still have that same challenge and progression as you replay the mode and see your lives used go down and down, but I would've loved for there to be an option or an additional mode where you're fighting against a life counter. A part of me wants to relive the frustration of falling within reach of the end, and the satisfaction of later overcoming that frustration. It's a shame players new to the series won't get to go through this.
On top of the standard content from the first two games, Banana Mania rolls the extra mile by offering a nice variety of additional modes, each with a small assortment of levels. In large, these function in the same way the missions do in providing a new way to play existing levels, as well as giving you access to a few levels you can't find elsewhere. You have a mode where you need to collect every banana, you have a mode where you need to avoid bananas, and by far the most interesting to me, you have a mode where you can play a handful of levels in reverse. Each of these modes are stellar in shaking up the formula and they leave me wanting more. If DLC were put out with level packs for these modes, I'd definitely check them out.
But wait, there's more! Rounding off this spherical package is a collection of minigames you know and love. From Monkey Bowling to Monkey Billiards to Monkey Golf, you have a set of 12 fantastic and varied games to play alongside the main event. I've found these a little hit and miss, with some games not quite meeting the expectations of my nostalgia-fuelled memories. Monkey Baseball feels unnecessarily precise, and Monkey Target just doesn't feel like it used to. I imagine it's just a case of adapting to new changes and a slightly different feel for these otherwise familiar games, but it's certainly a culture shock to my aged system. Regardless, I'm happy to see so many of them available in one place, and all available for multiplayer action.
Having received a copy of the game on Switch to review and buying the game on the Series X myself, I've had a good opportunity to see how it plays on both ends of the console spectrum. In large the game runs fine on the Switch, and it's a great option for those wanting the best portable Monkey Ball experience. I did notice the game feel choppy in a select few levels that featured rain and fire effects, but outside of those it's hard to pick it apart. Running on the Xbox the graphics look a fair bit cleaner, but when you're focused on your simian sphere they're hardly what you're paying attention to. If I had to pick a version to recommend though, it'd probably be the PC release. For some reason it's £10 cheaper than its console counterparts, making an already compelling package that much more so at just £25. However you choose to play, I doubt you'll be disappointed.
All in all though, Banana Mania is a great game that brings the golden era of Super Monkey Ball right back into the spotlight. It's an fantastic package full of classic content to be enjoyed by all at a more than reasonable price. Whether you want to kill 30 minutes or 30 hours, these balls are worth taking for a spin.
- Huge amount of content available
- Looks and feels great to play
- Nice assortment of characters to choose from
- 12 minigames return
- Missions diversify gameplay
- Some minigames just don't feel the same way they used to
- No lives in challenge modes reduce the stakes