Big meany pirate Captain Crabuchin stole the golden bananas again. Looks like I’ll have to hop into a zorb ball and roll after the dastardly villain. It’s pretty exciting; there hasn’t been a new Super Monkey Ball title since 2014, and even then it was on mobile platforms. Sure, this is a remaster of a Wii game, one that split opinions thanks to its reliance on motion controls. But I’m still going to welcome Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD with open arms.
Much of Banana Blitz HD is similar to the original — its 100 stages over 10 worlds are mostly untouched in terms of level design. Instead, the focus has gone into updating graphics, a revamped soundtrack, modernized UI, and two new modes. Oh, and motion controls have been completely ditched. Anyone else feeling relaxed after hearing that?
You see, Super Monkey Ball games are Marble Madness-style platformers. Instead of a rolling marble, we have a monkey-in-a-ball, which is controlled by tilting the board with the left stick. Getting over gaps and obstacles is done by making your chosen monkey jump. Just roll from one end of an obstacle course to another without falling off and within the time limit. Easy right? Cue manic laughter turning to tears from how difficult this game gets.
Before starting, I need to pick between 6 different monkeys (with a 7th, rather familiar Sega friend unlocked after beating the story). Varying stats help personalize gameplay as they change how each ball controls. Being afraid of falling makes heavyweight GonGon a tempting choice, as he can slowly bash through obstacles. Yet he also struggles to pick up speed, making jumps and time limits hard to nail – two things that Baby is really good at. I personally love AiAi and his middle of the road stats, partly because he has my favorite level of speed and bounce, but mostly for that sweet unlockable pirate costume. I’ve clearly got my priorities sorted.
The difficulty is well-paced, as softly curved roads and occasional bumps slowly ramp up to include finicky jumps, speed panels, and rotating platforms. Personal thanks go to everyone who complained about Banana Blitz lacking the challenge of GameCube titles. Banana Blitz HD now has additional obstacles and fewer walls, while rail paths (two metal bars the ball used to fit snugly in between) have become thin, flat roads of death. Bring it on.
If your plan is to carefully inch around a stage, then think again. The tight time limit forces you to get good while going fast. I normally hate constant countdowns for how stressful they can be, yet, I love how Banana Blitz HD forces me to experiment. Sure I could slowly make my way rolling across disappearing platforms, but it’d be quicker to pick up enough speed to jump over them. Then there’s the super ballsy tactic of falling from a high platform to land onto a later section below. Honestly, most of my attempts at cool shortcuts led to more deaths than if I’d done things normally. Yet it’s fun to try, and with unlimited continues, there’s no reason not to go for it.
Giving a much-needed break from balancing on platforms are the end-of-world bosses. Okay, so these are just a game of ‘hit the weak point until they die,’ though a couple do ask for a little more strategy than rolling in a circle to boop their backside. My favorite is the ape in World 2 who pellets the stage with homing missiles. There’s a button on top of the missiles that, if jumped on, change their target from my monkey to the boss. Sweet, sweet revenge.
While few bosses steal more than a handful of lives, I’ve got to call out the octopus from World 5. This stupidly finicky tentacle monster wants me to learn how to avoid each random attack. Failure at rolling into that one safe area or timing a jump incorrectly means instant death. I’m not being so dramatic as to call it the hardest boss ever, but man does it blow every other boss in Banana Blitz HD out of the water in terms of difficulty. I guess the devs just wanted to kick our ass halfway through, as it’s the hardest boss in the Wii version as well.
Speaking of something that hasn’t been changed; the camera can be a pain. It constantly locks onto bosses, making it difficult to navigate small stages. Attempts to dodge attacks often lead to falling off an edge or bouncing against a newly summoned enemy that the game had no intention of letting me see. More annoying is how my method of circling around bosses makes the camera spin like crazy. I genuinely had to keep pausing to avoid getting a headache.
Camera positioning is also a problem in platforming levels. Banana Blitz HD requires precise direction, speed, and timing, but the camera jerks around with the slightest movement and makes a wide swing during bigger turns. If I stop moving forward, the camera immediately stops as well, usually at some off-kilter angle. Jumping from one path to another without a centered camera is what changes sections of platforming from challenging to frustrating.
Perhaps it’s time to take a break with some party games. Banana Blitz’s original list of 50 mini-games has now been reduced down to 10. Since the majority relied on those pesky motion controls, I guess it’s not overly surprising. What we’ve been left with isn’t amazing, though. Snowboarding and Monkey Target are all well and good, but bland titles like Slingslot made the cut, while better ones such as FPS Monkey Wars have been left behind. Most of the control choices are also pretty janky. Hurdles are the most confusing to me. Button mashing both bumpers to run while jumping with X is uncomfortable, no matter how you try holding the controller.
When it comes down to it, the mini-games aren’t overly fun to play. Couch co-op can make up for certain issues, as struggling together can be kind of funny. It’s not something I’d ask people to come over for, though. A single-player Decathlon challenge gives some incentive to get good. Play all 10 mini-games in a row, and your high-score will be posted to an online leaderboard. I only tried this once, and can’t imagine doing it again. I failed one of the games and didn’t get my best scores in others, yet I still found myself pretty high on the leaderboard. Go me, I guess.
One addition to Banana Blitz HD that I do like is the Time Attack mode. You’re tasked with getting through a set number of worlds as fast as possible, with your best time posted to the leaderboards. Continues are still allowed, so it all comes down to skill and persistence. There’s something so satisfying about finally managing a trick or mastering a boss to shave off precious seconds. My only disappointment is how basic this mode is. A bit more variety would have gone a long way — as it stands, bombing through the same worlds wears off quickly. Perhaps the addition of a boss rush could shake things up? It would have been cool to race against ghosts of previous runs as well. But maybe I’m just being picky.
For the most part, Banana Blitz HD is a copy of the original game with a fresh coat of paint. Players looking for a burst of nostalgia will enjoy the updated graphics and the absence of motion controls. However, the camera’s still a bugbear, while a lack of engaging mini-games is disappointing. Ultimately though, Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD checks three important boxes; it’s fun, a decent challenge, and hella satisfying to beat.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game. A copy was provided to us by SEGA.
The developers have taken away motion controls, made it a bit more challenging, and added two new modes. Yet, for better or worse, Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD plays the same as the original.