Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: SEGA
Release Date: Oct. 5, 2021


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PS4 Review - 'Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Sept. 29, 2021 @ 9:00 a.m. PDT

Monkey Ball Banana Mania is a modern HD remaster of the original three Super Monkey Ball games (Super Monkey Ball, Super Monkey Ball 2, Super Monkey Ball Deluxe).

Buy Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania

It's easy to forget in the modern era of deep, tragic storylines that games can sometimes be absurd and simple. After all, one of the biggest icons in video game history is a rotund Italian plumber who battles turtles with the power of mushrooms and flowers. Another is a yellow circle that eats ghosts. Super Monkey Ball has always leaned into that kind of simple absurdity. You're a monkey, you're in a ball, and you need to get around. Why? Why not? It's carried the franchise for 20 years and looks to be carrying it far into the future. Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania is a celebration of that absurdity, with remastered versions of the first three games in the series and a healthy dose of side content.

As a franchise, Super Monkey Ball follows some pretty simple rules. You are playing as a monkey trapped in a ball, and you're thrown into a maze and have to get from one end to the other. The trick is that you have no control over your banana-loving avatar. Instead, you twist and adjust the stage, tilting it back and forth and side to side to manipulate your simian pal's momentum. If you've ever played the game Labyrinth, either in reality or in its other digital forms like the bonus missions in Resident Evil 8, think of Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania as an amped-up version of that.

Super Monkey Ball is a relaxing game to play in the same way that something like pinball is a relaxing game to play. You're mostly wrestling with momentum and physics to get your ball exactly where you want it to go. You'll probably get frustrated at first as you learn the rules of the game, but once you do, you'll gradually learn how to make it work in your favor. You have to enjoy speed attack games to get the most out of Monkey Ball, but if you do, there's a lot to like here. There's nothing quite as satisfying as zooming through a complex maze of pitfalls and traps as simply and smoothly as if you were controlling the ball directly.

For those interested in the concept but not really confident in their skills, there are also handicaps available, such a way to jump or slow time. You can use these freely, but you're not going to be able to compete in online leaderboards with them activated. They mostly give you an extra advantage if you're getting too frustrated with a particular stage. It's also not a bad addition for younger gamers who might find it a touch too challenging.

The core strength — and weakness — of Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania is that it's a straightforward game. That doesn't mean it is easy or simple, but you're going to know pretty quickly if it's a game for you. Do you want a digitized version of Labyrinth that throws absurd challenges at you, all through the lens of an adorable monkey mascot? Then you'll enjoy Super Monkey Ball. If not, then no amount of helper features, cute cameos or plethora of content is going to change your mind.

Thankfully, there is an absurd amount of content if Super Monkey Ball is your sort of game. There are hundreds of levels by default. There's a variety of neat ways to challenge yourself on some of those levels with new twists. You might have to collect every single banana on the stage or alternately, not touch a single one. You might have to do the whole thing in reverse.

Most of this content is recycled from older games, but it's been revamped and remastered. This isn't a true sequel so much as it is a hefty HD collection. If you're a fan of the older games, it might be easy to get disappointed at the idea of replaying hundreds of levels you've played before. On the other hand, having them all in one simple and convenient package is a big plus. You'll certainly never run low on stages, and you can even chart the evolution of level design as it progresses from game to game.

In addition, there are a series of minigames based on various sports, such as baseball, bowling, kayaking, tennis, and even some stranger things, like aerial dogfights. All these minigames revolve around your little ball of adorable, often (but not always) taking the role of the ball in the games. These minigames are all designed to be played in multiplayer and are more akin to something you'd see in Mario Party and its ilk, with a heavy focus on trouncing your friends and becoming the top banana. Like Mario Party, most of the games are simple and can be picked up and played by gamers of any age in just a few moments.

The minigames are a cute addition. They are reasonably fun time-wasters and seem like they'd be a good choice for a local party game that doesn't quite reach the "knives out, friendship ruined" levels of a particularly brutal game of Mario Kart or Mario Party. I don't think the minigames would sell the entire game on their own merits, but they are an added value. Having them as an option is welcome, and they don't feel as extraneous as some other multiplayer add-ons.

You also have the option to customize your avatar. There are multiple playable monkeys from various games in the series, from the franchise mascot AiAi down to the weird Baby. These monkey pals can be customized with various coloring and accessories, and even special new kinds of balls. If you're not so fond of monkeys, you'll be able to play as cameo characters: Sonic and Tails, Yakuza's Kazuma Kiryu, and Jet Grind Radio's Beat. Each cameo character also transforms the item you need to collect, such as Sonic turning them from bananas to rings. There are also going to be DLC options, like Morgana from Persona 5 or eternal cute animal mascot, Hello Kitty. These options are all cosmetic, so you can play as you like.

Graphically, Super Monkey Ball isn't too fancy, but it does its work well enough. You have a variety of environments, plenty of customizable characters, and the game runs nice and smooth. It might not be an award winner, but it's adorable enough to do its job well. Likewise, the soundtrack is pretty solid, providing excellent tunes with which to guide your banana-obsessed pal around the environments. The cameo characters seem a bit too silent, which makes them feel bland.

It's hard to fault Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania for giving us exactly what it promises. It's a compilation of three older games with some gussied-up visuals and some nice new features. If you've never played the franchise before but were always curious, then this is probably the best place to start. If you're a longtime fan looking to re-experience some older Monkey mania, then it'll be exactly what you need. It's nothing more and nothing less.

Score: 8.0/10

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