“Oh, **** off you stupid monkey.” I never thought I would stoop to the level of George Taylor damning apes in the classic Planet of the Apes. But here I am, cursing at a colorfully animated monkey in an indestructible zorb-like ball in Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania.
Previously, I had only ever known Super Monkey Ball as the unique arcade-style party game used by practicing surgeons to hone their precision skills and warm up before an operation. Seriously, this is a game that has been tested on by professionals in the medical field, and it has now been deemed “effective for laparoscopic skill training,” otherwise known as keyhole surgery.
That’s an impressive feat for a game about a monkey in a ball, but the latest entry, Banana Mania, won’t be offering any new insights into these studies. That’s because this is the same Super Monkey Ball we’ve seen since it first debuted back in 2001, except now on PS5, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch, PC, PS4 and Xbox One. The game is an enhanced remaster of the first three console entries, bringing 300 stages from Super Monkey Ball, Super Monkey Ball 2 and Super Monkey Ball Deluxe.
Despite being on the latest generation of consoles, developers Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio haven’t messed with the formula much to make Banana Mania a standout remaster. Super Monkey Ball fans can expect the same infuriatingly fun levels to conquer and a slight boost in visuals. Just don’t come in hoping for the next generation of Super Monkey Ball.
On a (monkey) roll
Super Monkey Ball became a game to remember due to its unique concept, creative stage design, and tight controls. Oh, and the cute and cuddly monkey in the ball himself, AiAi. These all make a grand return in Banana Mania, allowing newcomers to the series to understand why the original was so well-received by fans. That said, this game is celebrating its 20th anniversary, so the overall concept won’t be as ground-breaking or long-lasting as it was back then.
Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania has plenty of game modes and options for players to check out, including a story mode, challenge modes containing all the levels from the first and second game, practice modes, and world rankings to test your skills against other players. Stages are unlocked as you make your way through the story mode, but you can easily skip each one and unlock them all thanks to the “mark as complete” option.
Super Monkey Balls’ bread and butter is a blast. Controls take time to get used to, but once you learn how to maneuver the map to make precise turns or to speed down a platform at satisfying speeds, you’ll be rolling along the edge of stages like a master monkey baller — I do wonder if that’s what these aforementioned surgeons like to be called.
But mastery over movement is only the first step, as there is also time management, frustratingly creative obstacles to maneuver past, and a bucket load of bananas to collect in each stage. Bring all that together and you’ll slowly start to lose your monkey marbles. For example, in World 1, Stage 9, there is a stupidly fast spinning top with bananas along the edges. How on earth is any monkey in a ball supposed to ride along the outsides of a gigantic spinning top? The good news is that players don’t have to figure this out, as they can just cross the finish line without collecting those bananas. The option to take on a challenge or not is a highlight of the Super Monkey Ball series.
Each stage runs for 60 seconds, which means it could take just ten minutes to get through one of the 10 worlds in the main story mode. That seems almost disappointingly short, but this works in the player’s favor. Super Monkey Ball is all about speed and precision, and it can be painstakingly difficult to clear a stage in the fastest time possible and retrieve the collectible bananas. The level designer in charge of banana placement is evil incarnate, especially during some of the later stages in the game. I mean, who decides to put bananas on the edge of a downhill half pipe when you’re at peak speed?
But these are the types of challenges avid Monkey Ball veterans enjoy, and it’s satisfying to swipe a banana with a perfect tilt while going 100km/h (the speedometer at the bottom left of the screen is a nice touch) and cross the finish line in the nick of time.
One of my favorite levels was Gravity Slider, which could simply be seen as a massive ramp that has your monkey kicking it into sixth gear. That’s extremely fun to go down, but there are still all those bananas to claim, and they’re placed frighteningly far from the safety of the platform. There’s a rush in trying to grab them while still landing on a platform and crossing the finish line. That’s true Monkey Ball.
If you’re playing Super Monkey Ball for the story, you may not be aware of Kena: Bridge of Spirits, Deathloop or any other game that you could play instead. Jokes aside, Banana Mania’s Story Mode is irrelevant, as all you’ll find is a colorful animation of the group of monkeys watching TV before the evil Dr. Bad-Boon (gotta love it) disrupts their day with a maniacal plan involving bananas and bombs. There may be a fantastic premise in there somewhere, but it’s not in the game.
There are plenty of options in the start menu, but a majority of them will go unused. Being able to view the stage from a spectator’s perspective is great for viewing the layout of a level, but I could barely zoom in or out to fully gauge it. The controls in photo mode don’t fare any better, as it was difficult to maneuver the camera to get a picturesque shot.
I know by playing countless titles that you should always check behind you for hidden items or neat Easter eggs. Banana Mania has this on every stage, and it’s always three to four bananas. For banana collectors, this sly tactic gets old fast. It throws off the pacing of the game, knowing you’ll always have to pull back your thumb to roll backward. We know they’re there, and they aren’t exactly hard to get, either.
The first Super Monkey Ball introduced a slew of mini-games like Monkey Billiards, Monkey Bowling and Monkey Golf, along with more unique party games including Monkey Race, Monkey Fight, and Monkey Target. Expect them all to make a mediocre return, along with other short-lived party games such as Monkey Tennis, Baseball, Soccer, and Monkey Shot, Monkey Boat, and Monkey Dogfight.
The 12 mini-games vary, as a majority of them are just a Super Monkey Ball spin on classic sports games. Some seem to force the “Ball” aspect of Super Monkey Ball in them, like when the monkeys hold tennis rackets and hit a ball despite being in a ball themselves. Many mini-games were poor attempts on classic party games, including the rail-shooter, while others were just outright broken, such as Monkey Boat. In Monkey Boat, players are required to press L1 and R1 alternatively to control their boat, but I found pressing them alternatively fast enough meant blazing past the competition. In fact, my monkey AiAi ended up T-posing instead of rowing.
Still, some mini-games such as Monkey Race, Monkey Target and Monkey Billiards were a lot of fun to play, especially with others. These provided the Super Mario Party mini-game level of fun, but it would have been nice to see a few more special mini-games like the ones found in Banana Blitz, such as Whack-a-Mole or Space Monkey Attack. Games such as Bowling and Golf are nice additions, but they’re nothing special.
Is that you, Sonic?
This time around, it isn’t just AiAi, MeeMee, Baby, GonGon, and the rest of the monkey crew making a grand return, as the developers are bringing an all-star cast of Sega characters, too. Some fantastic additions include Sonic and Tails (of course the Blue Blur would make an appearance in a game about speed), Morgana from Persona 5, Beat from Jet Set Radio, and even Kiryu from the Yakuza series. It doesn’t take much effort to unlock these characters either, as I quickly collected enough in-game currency to use them and unlock different game modes by playing through the story mode.
Speaking of characters, each brings something slightly different to the table. From all-rounder AiA and lightweight Baby to the heavier GonGon. I didn’t find the different characters changed my playstyle completely, but it added an extra layer of thought when going through stages. As for the special guests, expect unique character animations and different collectibles to grab: for example, you’ll find rings instead of bananas when playing as Sonic or Tails.
The different game modes to unlock offer fun spins on the typical Super Monkey Ball formula, which should have been available from the get-go so they don’t get overlooked. Unlockable game modes including Golden Banana Mode, which has players collect all the bananas on different stages, and Dark Banana Mode, which brings rotten bananas to the stage that players must avoid, breathe new life into the game. Having to think of new strategies to roll around a stage is something the series will need when looking forward, as players can only tilt a stage for so long before the repetitive gameplay of Super Monkey Ball gets tedious. With the different game modes and leadership boards to conquer, however, those who have the itch to become master monkey ballers will find near-endless replayability in Banana Mania.
Dare I say Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania is the Dark Souls of arcade-style party games? The enticing difficulty and fun, unique gameplay make it seem so, but it would be unfair to include the 20th anniversary remaster of a classic in this category. Banana Mania is a collection of the best Super Monkey Ball has to offer, which long-time fans of the series should be excited about. With new characters, game modes, and 300 stages to conquer, there’s more than enough monkey business to keep players entertained.
That said, the lack of modern updates means the classic is starting to show its age. Being able to bounce, tilt, and roll on the latest generation of consoles is a treat, but this isn’t a revitalized Super Monkey Ball; it’s more of a revisit. While other additions such as the different mini-games are a nice touch, many aren’t up to scratch when compared to the countless sports games gamers can get today.
Still, Banana Mania is priced at $39.99/£34.99, and fans of the series will get a lot of value out of its replayability. Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania will launch on Tuesday, October 5, and will be available on PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X and Series S, Xbox One, and PC.