In the 20 years since the original release of Super Monkey Ball in arcades and on GameCube, nothing has come close to replicating the magic of the first three games. Best described as a high speed physics based platformer, Monkey Ball has always been an addictive and challenging franchise, but it’s always been hard to go back and play the original games due to platform and arcade exclusivity. Despite a few small missteps, Banana Mania provides a means to access these titles as a remastered collection that’s positively stuffed with content, accessibility options, and quality of life improvements that make this collection one of the best Monkey Ball offerings in recent times.
Needless to say, there isn’t much in the way of narrative when it comes to Super Monkey Ball, and what little there is mainly serves as a backdrop to the gameplay. Instead of remaking the original stories, though, Banana Mania serves its story through a TV show, where AiAi and crew watch the events of the original games unfold as Dr. Bad-Boon attempts to steal all the bananas on Jungle Island. It’s very surface level, but the manner in which it’s presented feels suitable for a celebration of the franchise, almost as if we’re looking back with the cast at past adventures, and it’s incredibly charming.
It’s hard to describe the allure of Monkey Ball to someone who’s never played it before. It seems really simple on a surface level, but there’s so many different aspects that contribute to a deeper, more meaningful gameplay experience than most would expect. Each level is extremely short in nature, with each one limited to a 60 second timer. Your job, is to complete each level within the timer, collecting bananas along the way. They start out relatively easy but steadily climb in challenge, eventually resulting in some of the most devious platforming you’ll ever put yourself through. It’s incredibly rewarding, but to get through each level with every banana takes a serious amount of skill and dedication.
The real fun comes after your first clears, as you attempt to collect every banana in each level, and beat your previous times. If this sounds daunting, there’s no need to worry, levels can easily be skipped over so you can move onto the next, or you can opt to enable an assist mode, where you can slow down time, and disable the 60 second timer. It’s a brilliant way to make the latter half of the game accessible to newcomers, without tossing out any of the original challenge fans know and love.
There’s a reason people constantly go back to play these original three games, and that’s because the level design here is universally fantastic. There’s so much variation and unique concepts on show that nothing is similar to anything else, which is no easy feat when the main campaign alone is comprised of 100 levels. What accentuates this further, is the tight controls that provide the level of precision needed for this kind of platforming. You never feel cheated out of a death, and there’s always ways that you can improve and find shortcuts through levels to make the challenge that little bit easier.
There’s also a slew of minigames here from Monkey Ball games new and old to choose from. All of these are multiplayer, and offer some fun party distractions to play with your friends. Monkey Bowling and Monkey Golf are as good as ever, but a few classics feel a bit off in the way they control and play, almost as if they weren’t given quite the same treatment as the core game. What’s here is still great, but it’s definitely a difficult adjustment if you’ve played plenty of the original versions of these games.
Additionally, there’s online records you can race for, challenge courses made up of levels of varying difficulties, missions to complete and more. All of these alongside the main game, grant you banana coins that you can spend in-game on new modes, characters, gallery unlocks, and visual filters. Needless to say, Banana Mania is bursting at the seems with bonuses and extra content which makes it well worth the money. Who doesn’t want to play as Sonic, Kiryu and Beat in a Monkey Ball game? SEGA and Monkey Ball fans will no doubt love a lot of the inclusions here, even if the inability to play these characters in the minigames is disappointing.
Where Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania makes the most changes, is in its production values, background visuals and textures. All of the colourful worlds and levels really pop here, and each one has eye-catching elements in the backgrounds that only get old as you move on to the next world. It really feels like RGG Studio have treated the franchise with a lot of TLC, and it leaves the experience feeling fresh and new. Additionally, performance is great, load times are sharp, the UI is cleaned up a bit and the soundtrack slaps as hard as ever.
THE NINTENDO SWITCH VERSION OF THIS GAME WAS PLAYED FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS REVIEW. A DIGITAL COPY OF THE GAME WAS PROVIDED BY THE PUBLISHER
Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania is a confident and addictive reminder of why Monkey Ball was so popular back in the day. It truly feels like a celebration of the franchise that’s jam-packed with content, bonuses, and unlocks. Monkey Ball still holds up with addictive challenge, fantastic music and a goofy, yet endearing premise, and all of it is accentuated by small yet meaningful additions that makes it more accessible than ever before.
Addictive gameplay loop
Killer level design and tight controls
Bursting at the seams with content
Vastly improved production values
accessible for new players
Some of the mini games don’t play as nicely as before
Unlockable cameo characters are only playable in the main story