There’s nothing quite like the sombre realisation when playing a new entry into a series that is celebrating a milestone year achievement that I am, as many of my friends like to remind me, old. I can still recall coming home after a midnight launch (remember those?) for the GameCube with the dinky purple console in one hand and a copy of Super Monkey Ball in the other. I remember laughing at how tiny the console and the discs were, before getting utterly absorbed in the game until the early hours with a few friends. That was apparently 20 years ago at this point, and I’m wondering how something so fun and whimsical can make me feel so depressed all of a sudden.
I’m being overly dramatic of course, but that doesn’t take away the fact that Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania is being released to celebrate that 20 year anniversary of the series. It’s been a while since the last main entry – 2006’s Super Monkey Ball Banana Blitz for the Wii – although there have been multiple ports and spin offs in the years since. What we have in Banana Mania is a happy medium; it’s a collection of ports, bringing all the levels from the original and its sequel on GameCube and those from the Xbox and PS2 port Deluxe in to one package, all nicely up-spuffed with fancy 4K visuals, extra modes, all the mini-games, and some fun extras like new characters to use. Despite the series seemingly being on the back burner for almost a decade, Sega have thrown some serious love into this release, and it’s a fantastic way to introduce newer players to the game as well as letting old’un’s like me revisit them.
Even with the amount of years since release, I found myself recognising almost all the levels here, and they are just as rage-inducing yet fun as they were back then. You see, Monkey Ball handles slightly differently than it may appear; we don’t directly control the ball but rather the stage, tilting it to direct the ball towards the goal. In practice this can make something simple like balancing on a narrow path truly difficult, let alone when we get to latter levels with spring boards or moving parts. Each stage gives us 60 seconds to beat it – initial stages make this time limit seem far too generous, but it’s not long until we’re getting to the goal by the skin of our teeth thanks to some devious level design and physics.
It’s clear that Sega are keen to have players experience as much of Banana Mania as possible though, and as such have included an option to mark stages as clear if we get really stuck. It costs a few points, but was worth the spend when we really, really couldn’t clear a stage. We lose out on the option to try the EX version and have a score registered, but can replay the level at any time in order to try again.
All the mini games are present and correct too, with fan favourites such as Monkey Target or Golf here alongside less enjoyable efforts like Monkey Race or Fight. There are twelve to choose from, with various player counts from 2-4 players. As with the main levels, the physics and handling can be a bit hit or miss in some scenarios and might frustrate new players as much as entertain them at times. My youngest was loving the Mini Golf game up until hole 8, when the difficulty ramped up so much that her streak of Birdies was turned into double digit hits. She persevered though and enjoyed the rest of the time we spent with it – I’m hoping this will be a game we can get back to often.
As mentioned, there are extra challenges to attempt on each stage as well as characters to unlock too. The Dark Banana mode challenges players to avoid rotten bananas on the way to the goal, while the Golden Banana has us collecting all of them. Some original stages from Deluxe and the GameCube titles return in retro glory too, while extra characters and ball skins can be unlocked through play. An optional purchase will also unlock yet more, with the Sega Saturn ball in particular bringing a smile to my face. There’s an online leaderboard for those wishing to compare to friends scores, but sadly no online play. That would have been the icing on the cake to be able to play the mini games online, but as it is local play is still as fun as it ever was.
All in all, it’s fantastic to see Super Monkey Ball back after all these years. This Banana Mania collection brings the classic games back to the fore, with hundreds of stages to play, a dozen mini games, lots of cosmetics to unlock and more. The gameplay is as challenging – and fun – as ever, and will no doubt garner a new audience of fans that still have youth on their side.Become a Patron!
This game was reviewed based on Xbox S|X review code, using an Xbox S|X console. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.