Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania Review
To celebrate 20 years of monkey rolling madness, Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania remasters the first 3 games of the series – Super Monkey Ball, Super Monkey Ball 2, and Super Monkey Ball Deluxe – for the consoles and PC that aims to bring back fond memories for fans and re-introduce the game to a younger audience.
As a newbie to the franchise, what surprised me is that the game is developed by Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio, more famously known for the Yakuza series. Imagining Toshihiro Nagoshi and his tough-guy stature produce and direct a game about monkeys rolling in a ball is something I’ll probably never get used to.
The object of Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania is quite simple – you get a monkey inside a ball, roll it around the track to get them through the finish line before the allotted time runs out. You also get to collect bananas along the way while aiming for higher points. It’s an old-school arcade game inside and out.
As a newbie in this franchise, does the game warrant a full release or would it have been better off as a mini-game in the Yakuza series? I had the weekend to check the game to find out.
A testament to creative level design
Being a compilation of 3 games, you get the full suite of levels, offering a huge amount of content across the story and challenge modes. The amount of thought put into the level design of the game is commendable. Thinking of several variants of taking a monkey on a ball and getting them to the goal is one thing, but a hundred different iterations is an achievement by itself.
The controls are simple enough to pick up and play, where you only use the left stick to move the board and the right stick to move the camera. You have no control of the monkey ball and your only option of agency is by angling the board differently for the monkey ball to reach the finish line. Gyro controls would have been a great addition to the game and is definitely a missed opportunity to add more immersion into the mix,
The first few levels take you through most of what you need to know about how to progress in the game, but Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania quickly ramps it up, adding in challenge after challenge, forcing you to get creative and think of ways to hit the goal.
By the second world, I realize that the game isn’t playing around, and RGG Studio has put a lot of thought into the level design, making it something that you shouldn’t underestimate. These levels not only challenge your dexterity and your timing but also your lateral thinking on how you will get to the goal.
At a certain point, some of the levels in Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania are just downright sadistic, and the difficulty makes a big jump, making it a frustrating task especially for newbies who were curious enough to try out the game. It takes quite a lot of mental energy, timing, and dexterity to clear some of these challenges that repeating them for whatever reason doesn’t feel encouraging.
In the event that you find yourself pulling hairs at some of the levels, Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania offers a number of ways to make it easier for the player, adding options like assist mode, doubling the time limit, and even a slow-motion button.
Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania also gives you the option to skip entire levels at the cost of in-game currency, which is a low-key great addition and something a lot of players will surely use. Players also have an infinite number of lives, giving everybody the option to complete the game no matter the skill level, as long as you have the patience to go through all of the levels.
Bring friends along and suffer together
Despite hundreds of unique and creatively designed levels, Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania eventually falls into the trap of losing the interest of single-player gamers due to its difficulty spike, and that’s even with skipping notoriously tough levels to advance in the game.
There was some entertaining story beats every time you complete a world involving many of its monkey characters like AiAi and GonGon, but besides taking on challenge levels and missions, interest levels sadly plummet because of its tough level progression.
You can cash out your points for different skin changes and costume unlocks for your characters, the best ones being the different Sega characters you can use such as Sonic, Tails, and of course Kazuma Kiryu from Yakuza. Changes in these characters are paired with cosmetic changes as well, like rings and Stamina X bottles replacing the banana pick-ups. Some of the animations are quite entertaining, but once you run out of things to spend on with your points, the next best thing is to bring a group of friends to actually make it a true party game.
There’s a lot of fun to be had, challenging your buddies out to complete the levels over drinks, which even extends to a whole range of mini-games to explore and play like Golf and Tennis, both of which are personal favorites and took up quite a lot of my weekend.
Otherwise, the crux of the game will come down to how receptive you are to the content, considering both the fun and frustration that the various levels will offer. There’s a great difference between appreciating good level design and actual enjoyment, so one thing won’t necessarily lead to another.
What we liked:
- Hundreds of unique levels filled with creative challenges.
- Tons of accessibility options
- Mini-games and extras to allow for a party game option.
What we didn’t like:
- The challenges for some levels are borderline sadistic.
- Variety for the same type of game mechanic loses its novelty depending on level of interest.
- Replay value depends on your interest in the game and threshold for the challenges.
Verdict: Wait for it.
You have to admire the amount of thought and effort put into the intricate level design of Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania. Yet no matter how much appreciation I have for this genre, it takes a specific kind of player to enjoy this game and it definitely isn’t for everyone. A lot of emphasis is placed on modernizing the game, adding as many accessibility options and extras which newcomers will certainly appreciate.
Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania actually makes for a good party game with friends to see how well you could clear some of these bizarre and challenging levels. With other mini-game options such as golf and tennis to change it up and using some other Sega characters like Sonic, Tails, and Kiryu, there’s a lot of content to enjoy and take in.
However, your enjoyment hinges on how patient you can be with some of its frustrating levels, especially for newcomers. Veterans will surely welcome the challenge of mastering these again, which has resulted in some creative speedrunning attempts over the years.
As an aside, hats off to Toshihiro Nagoshi and Daisuke Sato for all your service! Thank you for a crazy wild ride!
*Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania was reviewed on a PS5 with a review code provided by the publisher.