If there was one wacky SEGA franchise I had been hoping for a revival, it was Super Monkey Ball - by that I mean a re-release of the original GameCube titles, or the Deluxe edition released for other platforms that compiled the first two games together. That would have been easy to do, surely.
Instead, the news that SEGA would be remastering the Wii title Banana Blitz was met with a mixed response. Yes, it’s Monkey Ball, but also this entry was not particularly well loved, almost certainly because the motion controls made it pretty nightmarish to play. The good news is that this multiplatform HD remaster does away with motion controls entirely, including on the Switch, so whichever version you get, it’s simply using the analogue stick.
For the uninitiated, Monkey Ball is about tilting the world in order to make your monkey ball navigate hundreds of steadily more complex mazes to reach a goal. The trick is how you can make use of the realistic physics to expertly manoeuvre over incredible gaps and distances, although even if you’re not planning to becoming a speedrunning god, it’s equally challenging if you’re looking to nab all the bananas in a stage, as you’re tempted to veer off the main path to treacherous platforms and bumpers.
Playing through just the first two worlds to get a taster, it certainly feels like classic Monkey Ball at first, albeit with the expected 1080p and 60fps upgrade that makes for a smoother experience. However, Banana Blitz also makes some seemingly unnecessary additions such as boss fights and a jump button that feel like an ill-advised attempt to make this unique arcade puzzler more like another run-of-the-mill 3D platformer. I’m also pretty sure nobody plays Monkey Ball for the story, all the more puzzling that the remaster’s announcement trailer was of the introductory cut scene.
Elsewhere are the mini-games that the series had also been known for. Banana Blitz actually had a whopping 50, although it’s probably a relief that most have been culled for the remaster - mostly because some wouldn’t work without motion controls, also because some of them were just terrible - totalling just 10. That includes some stone-cold classics like ‘Monkey Target’, but you still have some that just rather miss the point, like sticking the monkeys in an arcade space shooter or on a snowboard - I mean, that’s just not Monkey Ball, is it?
But even if Banana Blitz is not as beloved as the originals, it’s nonetheless great to see Super Monkey Ball getting another shot in the limelight when its characters have been making do with cameos in the UFO catcher minigames of the Yakuza series. Whether you plan to monkey around with friends or test your mettle on its 100 mazes, you’ll want to roll up for it.