Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania
Developer: Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio
Publisher: SEGA EUROPE LTD
Platform: PlayStation 4 (Also available on Xbox, Nintendo Switch and PC)
Age Rating: PEGI 3
Release Date: 04/10/2021
A code was provided for review purposes
Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania is a compilation of hundreds of platforming levels featured in Super Monkey Ball, Super Monkey Ball 2, and Super Monkey Ball Deluxe. It was released to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the series. Does Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania pay homage to what makes the series fun? Find out in this Rapid Review.
To begin my adventure, I was shown a brief television show about some monkeys getting their bananas stolen by a villain: Doctor Bad-Boon. The characters did not exchange dialogue, nor did the developers detail any background between the characters, but the plot was simple to understand. Even with such a basic concept, the cutscenes were quite lengthy. Sure, they broke up the gameplay, but they were tedious, did not offer meaningful content, and were not skippable. These brief cutscenes did not excite me or give me further motivation for me to continue. I did not find the story captivating whatsoever.
Content to Last a Lifetime
Though the story content was underwhelming, Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania clearly focuses on gameplay. It features more than three hundred levels, missions to complete, and even minigames to play. This game is a massive compilation of the Monkey Ball series.
The series is an action platformer with a unique twist. Instead of controlling the main character, I controlled the stage. I leveraged the angle of the stage to control my monkey and guide them to the goal inside each level. It was responsive, refreshing, and immediately easy to understand. Precise movement is the key to platforming adventures and moving around in Super Monkey Ball Banana feels excellent.
Home Video Quality
Unfortunately, though movement works well, the camera makes it challenging to know exactly how to move. Sometimes, it has no issues following my character and showing enough of the track in front of me too. However, occasionally, the camera makes it very challenging to complete the levels. I consistently ran into an issue: changing my speed drastically would automatically change the camera angle. Thus, stages that have platforms that impacted my speed were more challenging not only because of the innate challenge but from the constant fluctuations from my camera.
Not only that, but the positioning of the camera often made it challenging to tell how much a platform is slanted. Many platforms look flat but when I landed on them, they were uneven. The inconsistency here made exploring levels more time consuming and required that I remember how each section feels instead. These issues made the levels far more frustrating than they normally should be.
With such simple movement, I was pleasantly surprised to see how many innovative levels were included in Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania. The levels are intuitively designed, feature memorable obstacles, and are largely unique. I climbed up ramps while avoiding a fan blade, took portals to warp around stages, and explored different mazes. There were so many things for me to do and explore. Many of the levels were fun to play too. The stages were interesting and rarely felt like another, even with so many levels. The developers even included optional collectable bananas to push me even further. To earn a special reward, I needed to collect every single banana in each stage. I was rarely dedicated enough to pursue this feat, but including the challenge is an excellent decision, and it adds to the gameplay depth too. The game structure worked well.
Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania is also rewarding because there is a strict time limit. I needed to complete each level in a minute. Any longer, and I would need to start over. This kept me on my toes and forced me to rush through levels. I enjoyed the frantic panic of finding what to complete in each level and finding out how to do it within the time limit. This reward was further heightened by the intricate character movement. Since I controlled the stage instead of the monkey, I needed to stop the monkey ball before taking a sharp turn. Learning to take corners quickly was a part of the challenge and made mastery especially rewarding. The strict time limit motivated me to master the mechanics. It also incentivized me to speed run each level, providing even more reason to revisit the title.
Even though Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania highlights the best moments the games have to offer, some of the flaws start to shine when these games are released on modern consoles. The camera has issues and sometimes the levels are too challenging. Even as someone who enjoys difficult games, I found myself getting frustrated with the game frequently. Worst of all, many levels felt gimmicky. For example, one level launched my monkey into the air. Once in the air, I needed to land atop a mountaintop, and walk into the goal. Unfortunately, in the air, I had no control over my monkey. While I can control the ground, it was frustrating seeing my monkey launch into the distance, too far to save. These levels were not fun, and I felt lucky instead of proud when completing them. Sometimes the mechanics were too janky for their own good.
Still, the developers worked hard to make the game accessible. Sometimes the difficulty of levels seemed random. Challenging levels would appear, but then easy levels would follow them. Plus, they were often so unique that the skills learned in one level would not necessarily apply to subsequent levels. Thus, there is an interesting difficulty curve that continues developing throughout the game. To counteract this, the developers of Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania included an accessibility mode that doubles the time limit for the level and includes an arrow pointing where to go. This was very welcomed, and helped to acclimate me to confusing levels, but did not necessarily help me with levels that were not fun to play.
Pay to Win?
The developers also gave me the option to skip a level. Though, unlike Super Magbot, I needed to complete every level to beat the game. Instead, to mark a level as complete without beating it, I needed to pay with my in-game currency. Thankfully, this is given generously, but using points to grant access to later levels was frustrating and discouraging. Sure, it incentivizes people to get better at the game, but I would have appreciated it if the developers granted access to all available levels without penalty. Still, the option is nice to include and prevents players from getting overly frustrated at the game.
On a more positive note, the in-game currency can be used to purchase new characters and modes. These rewards kept me motivated and made it fun to complete various challenges. Additionally, purchasing new modes brought new challenges and ways to experience the game. The point system worked well to incentivize me to continue playing. Plus, the in-game currency can be collected regardless of skill level. It was implemented well.
More to Explore
The developers also included minigames for me to enjoy. There was a variety of them including Monkey Bowling, Monkey Golf, Monkey Boat and many more. I was pleasantly surprised by how developed these minigames were, and I enjoyed playing them in local cooperative modes. They were designed well, though they could easily get repetitive. Still, it was a lovely bonus, and I can see myself revisiting these party games in the future.
The presentation of Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania was good, but not great. Each stage looked distinct and featured unique assets, but the backgrounds were not eye-catching. The playable characters look nice, and there was a nice variety of them too. Still, it was nothing special. The sound design was nothing spectacular either. I listened to the classic soundtrack which entertained me while I played the game, but it is nothing I would listen to in my free time. The visuals in the minigames ranged from fine to a bit underwhelming, especially with the water textures in the boat minigame, but still, everything looked presentable. The visual and sound design worked but is not a reason to pick up the game.
Though there were certainly some rough patches, Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania shows exactly why the Monkey Ball franchise is so well known. The levels are addictive, unique, and well designed. There are some issues with the camera and the difficulty progression, but the game feels excellent to play, especially with so many bonus features. I am glad I got to experience this series, and think this package is an excellent starting point for new fans.
4 out of 5
You can purchase Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania from the PlayStation store here
You can find and read our reviews on OpenCritic.