monkey ball banana rumble

Super Monkey Ball Banana Rumble Review – Keep On Rollin’ Baby

It was the best of times, it was the blurst of times.

Discounting any HD ports or remakes, it’s been well over a decade since the last original, mainline Super Monkey Ball game. With that in mind, and even knowing the folks at Ryu ga Gotoku were behind the operation, I wasn’t entirely sure if there’d be anything left in this series’ core concept to justify another original title. Thankfully, it only took 15 minutes and my stage-tilting muscle memory coming back to recall why these games have endured this long. This one might be lacking some innovation, but Banana Rumble is some of the most fun you can have with a bunch of balls.

Like the other “traditional” Monkey Ball games, the meat and potatoes of Banana Rumble’s gameplay experience comes with its Adventure Mode, which sees AiAi, MeeMee, Baby, Gongon and more friends old and new go on world-hopping adventure in pursuit of some precious artifacts called the OOPArts – the ultimate goal being the fabled Legendary Banana. It’s certainly a basic premise, but not only is this the first time since 2002’s Super Monkey Ball 2 that we’ve had proper, animated cutscenes in the campaign but the story scenes here are well-put-together, decently written and with some entertaining new characters.

monkey ball banana rumble

You’ll see all of this play out over an initial helping of 10 distinct worlds with 10 stages apiece, each world representing a new theme not only aesthetically but in level design – the ancient Japan-flavoured world features appropriate music and visuals, but its challenges are also designed to feel like the feats of strength and acrobatics you’d associate with ninja training. Meanwhile, a neon-soaked, futuristic world features plenty of switch puzzles, disappearing platforms and other moving parts. The level design in Banana Rumble is easily some of the best I’ve experienced in one of these games, consistently throwing up fun, fresh and challenging situations to best.

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It keeps things mostly simple on the gameplay side as well, with the sole twist on the usual “tilt the level to roll the little monkey trapped in a capsule” formula being a charged boost that all of the monkeys can use to get a little extra speed. This is used for tougher challenges and section skips more than required to achieve the basics of getting to the goal in each stage, which is a nice way to give seasoned players a new trick while not asking too much of those who just want the basics. Each monkey also has their own advantages and disadvantages in play, including the power of their boost, so picking the right primate for the job can really help. You’ll meet new faces over the course of the main Adventure Mode levels who’ll eventually become playable, too.

monkey ball banana rumble

It’s not over once the story is. either, with each world revisited through 100 additional and even more devious stages, giving Adventure Mode a huge 200 to play through. Add in optional objectives in each that task players with beating a certain time, collecting a certain number of bananas and nabbing a particularly-tricky golden banana, and what could have been over in a handful of hours turns into nights upon nights of obsessive rolling – at least in my case. Every stage is perfectly laid out to make fulfilling these bonus objectives feel unique and rewarding, and it can get devilishly tricky in the late and post-game worlds, especially the moments where beating a time goal means finding the most cracked skips possible.

If you’re not into the idea of restarting the same levels dozens of times to nail that perfect run, there are also some handy accommodations made to keep things approachable at all skill levels. Failing a level multiple times gives you the option of enabling some “Helper Mode” settings, which include things like route guides, checkpoints and a handy rewind – you can even spend points earned from completing levels and objectives to mark your current level as cleared and move on. There are also a heap of settings to play with in general to make sure things feel right, whether it’s tweaking the sensitivity and visual feedback of your level controls, or the camera, including being able to change things like joystick deadzone. It makes a huge difference for the experience to be as flexible as it is, and I’m sure will make an even bigger one for anyone who wants or needs the extra help.

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monkey ball banana rumble

When you’re ready to start taking on some of the more challenging stuff though, you’ll quickly accrue tens of thousands of points to spend on things like new outfits and balls for your monkeys, new decorations for “Juicy Island” where your crew of apes resides between missions, cute decorations and functions for the basic in-game photo mode or even new characters to play as. There’s a fair amount to spend your hard-earned points on, and even if you run out of things you care to buy you can also drop points into a special tree in the post-game that gets uploaded and compared to your friends and other players, which I can already see myself wanting to compete in. It’s not often I get to say I have the biggest banana… tree.

And the fun doesn’t stop there. Or, it doesn’t have to, depending on your penchant for throwaway multiplayer inclusions. This is probably where Banana Rumble’s package feels a bit underripe, serving up some competitive Battle modes that wouldn’t feel out of place as a Fall Guys round. These are inventive and fun enough for a couple bashes, and clearly a big part of the package as far as the game’s marketing goes, but none are really something I’d break out at a gathering in place of a Mario Party or play with any real conviction once I was done with the main part of the game. The ability to go through Adventure Mode with up to three friends locally or online is great, though.

monkey ball banana rumble

The Battle modes also make for the worst-looking moments in Banana Rumble, dropping the otherwise-performant, 60FPS visuals to glaringly low resolutions and a 30FPS target when playing multiplayer modes – even against CPU opponents with no split-screen. Cutbacks like that are par for the course on Switch, I guess, but this is an exceedingly simple game, visually and otherwise, so it’s a struggle to see why there’s such a drastic dip in multiplayer. The soundtrack maintains the series’ bop-filled standards, at least.

monkey ball banana rumble
Conclusion
Though it does little to stray from the formula, Banana Rumble is a worthy original entry in a series that has somehow survived decades on a fairly simple concept. With a worthy Adventure Mode full of fun stages and addictive challenges, some great inclusions for approachability, a healthy suite of unlockables and some amusing, if not particularly compelling, multiplayer Battle modes, this is a decent overall package for Monkey Ball vets and newcomers alike.
Positives
Cute, well presented story
200 superbly-designed Adventure Mode stages
Heaps of extras and unlockables
Good approachability options and control settings
Negatives
Battle modes don't have a ton of staying power
Significant visual deficit in multiplayer
7.5