Title: Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania
Release Date: October 5, 2021
Reviewed On: PS5
Genre: Arcade Platformer
Super Monkey Ball has always been an outlier, even during its debut 20 years ago. Its initial console titles were more akin to arcade experiences, opposing the conventional norms that were well expected during that era. However, across each entry, the series seemed to lose that spark of what made it so endearing in the first place.
In a surprising release, Sega is getting back to basics with the release of Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania. This game has been boasted to be a long-overdue return to form for the franchise, remastering the stages that had us fall in love with AiAi and friends. Thankfully, after spending extensive time with it, I had a simultaneously thrilling and nostalgic experience.
Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania is all about its gameplay, so it is unnecessary to talk about its story. Regardless, expect a few scenes of these cute monkies hanging out. There are several options on the main menu, but your time will be spent in the ‘Main Game’ tab upon first starting. As its name implies, the Story mode is housed here and contains quintessential classic Monkey Ball gameplay. After picking a character, players must angle them across obstacle course-filled stages to reach a goalpost. Each world has a dedicated theme, granting simple but effective doses of variety.
This is a game where you learn through a hands-on approach, which makes it hard to describe. Still, the general feel of the physics and movement of rolling around feels natural and easy to navigate to be as straightforward as possible. Every action felt tight and responsive, which is vital for the experience.
There are two methods of playability to take into account; button usage and motion sensitivity. I primarily stuck with the former since I am more comfortable with buttons, but I still played around with the motion sensitivity feature to see how it felt. Maybe it’s because I played this on PlayStation 5, but it just felt awkward to move around these environments in this manner. It controlled well enough, don’t get me wrong, but this would likely feel most natural on the Switch with Joy-Cons.
Other modes are present within the ‘Main Game’ tab, most notably Challenge and Practice modes. Each stage and minigame has missions to complete, which provide more bananas. Additionally, the ‘Special’ option contains unlockable modes that must be purchased from the Points Shop. Currency is earned from collecting bananas and clearing missions., which can be spent to obtain a slew of add-ons. Alongside characters, which are glorified skins, there are many cosmetic items and straight-up game modes to purchase. Though some are more impactful than others, it’s gratifying to buy out the shop gradually.
The functionality to buy modes in-game through earned currency and not through real-money avenues reinforces the classic-game feel this title emits. I always felt like I was playing an optimized, lovingly crafted blast to the past rather than a substandard product solely meant to line pockets. There is always a sturdy sense of reward in Super Monkey Ball Mania, be it through your purchases, stage successes, or mission clearing. The lack of shortcuts that can be taken advantage of to reach those heights makes the feats of reaching them all the more exhilarating.
Difficulty in Banana Mania will undoubtedly be a topic of conversation, especially amongst newer players. If you are new, then expect to fail again, and again, and again. But, just like classic arcade experiences, patience, practice, and passion will ultimately lead you to success. You have to put in the time to get there, and not quarters, thankfully. There is a Jump ability that can be bought and a Helper Guide that can be enabled. Still, these crutches, the Jump especially, could take away from the tension of the experience.
On the topic of difficulty, the pacing of progression is undeniably awkward at points, though understandably devised. Instead of gradually becoming more complex, there are random spikes of difficulty and ease. Due to that, it’s best to expect roadblock stages from world to world. This shouldn’t be a deterrent, though, because, at least the way I see it, the developers tried their hardest to avoid strings of stages in a row being challenging and halting progress entirely. While it can be demeaning, make no mistake, this game can be downright brutal at points. So toss your pride away and keep on trying.
The Party Games mode also deserves mention as it contains various enjoyable minigames that can be enjoyed by 1-4 people. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the opportunity to try out co-op, but I had fun dabbling around in these lite experiences on my own. They are intended for multiple people, though, so if you ever have friends and family over and want to duke it out over Monkey Dogfighting or something, the option is there. Sadly, however, these minigames can’t be played online. Regarding online though, there are ranked leaderboards for the Main Game’s Time Attack mode and the Party Games’ Score Attack mode. These can aid in upping the ante and replayability for, particularly competitive players.
Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania provides the classic Monkey Ball experience veteran fans have been craving for literal decades while also summating the highlights from the past for prospective new fans to dive into. This hardcore arcade experience is certainly not for everyone, but once you fall for the niche holes of classic Monkey Ball, there is no getting out, and you will undoubtedly be in for the long haul.
There is nothing quite like these unique games, especially when in top form like Banana Mania. Their prowess at granting addicting stages and a constant desire for self-improvement are borderline unmatched. Quite honestly, seeing this revival is legitimately miraculous. I implore fans and even those who are vaguely interested in getting this collection and giving it a shot to let Sega know that classic Monkey Ball still has a thriving, dedicated market.
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