You might recall back when the Nintendo Switch had its official unveiling in January 2017, that a number of third party developers went on stage to announce rather vague support for the platform. Among the suits and personalities was Toshihiro Nagoshi. Naturally, he was there to represent Sega as its chief creative officer, but surely his presence was hinting at the return of Super Monkey Ball. After all, the game wasn’t just Nagoshi’s creation but it was also Sega’s first official game on a console for its former rival, a launch title for GameCube no less. Over two years later and it’s finally happened, not just for Switch but all other platforms.
It’s however not quite the return one would have hoped for. Instead of remastering the first (and best) game or its equally decent sequel, Sega have opted to revisit the divisive Wii entry, Banana Blitz, infamous for using nightmarish motion controls. The good news is that, besides hitting a solid 1080p HD resolution and 60fps framerate, motion has been completely nixed for this remaster, reverting to controlling with the stick, like it always should.
To be more precise, the way Super Monkey Ball works is that you’re not controlling the monkey in the ball but rather tilting the entire level and letting gravity take care of things. However, this idea gets rather muddled as Banana Blitz also introduces a jump button to proceedings, which of course is controlling your monkey ball. It’s not just a cheap optional gimmick either as some levels are simply impossible to clear without it (similarly if you’re attempting to exploit a shortcut). It’s one of the things that will put off Monkey Ball purists.
And then there’s the boss battles - boss battles? In a Monkey Ball game? These of course also require jumping to hit weak points, which just feels like a very underwhelming boss fight from a mediocre 3D platformer albeit with a frustrating camera and the ease of getting bounced off often small maps.
To be upfront, at the time of writing, I’ve yet to beat the infernal spiralling level in the Volcano, and just wonder what unholy ritual one must have performed to traverse it in the Wii version. Whereas the original games had different difficult tiers and naturally provided more levels the higher the difficulty went up, there’s an infuriating inconsistency here: you could be rolling through the most nightmarish maze one moment and then onto something that’s over as quick as it’s forgettable.
For those who persist however, there is at least a prize waiting for you. Sega’s very own Sonic the Hedgehog (in his classic and rounder form) is an unlockable character, while all the levels bananas turn into rings complete with old-school sound effects. It’s a nice touch for sure, though whether it’s worth enduring the torture to get there is debatable.
Then there are the mini-games, of which only 10 have survived from the Wii version’s 50 - probably for the best. Fortunately, Monkey Target, which has been around since the very beginning is present and correct, but just like the jump button, many of these also seem like throwaway stuff that misses the point. Snowboarding? A spaceship game? Whack-a-mole? What’s any of that got to do with Super Monkey Ball?
Overall, it’s a return that, in spite of the improved and smooth presentation, is as bumpy as some of the levels you’ll encounter. It may feel good at first to be able to finally play a Monkey Ball game again after all these years, but it’s disappointing knowing that there were better options in the series.
Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD (Reviewed on Nintendo Switch)
Game is enjoyable, outweighing the issues there may be.
While it’s welcome to see one of Sega’s most original IPs return to modern consoles, Banana Blitz HD is far from the series at its best and one that purists will find wanting.