Super Monkey Ball fans deserved better than Banana Blitz in 2006 or Banana Blitz HD in 2019. It had decent graphics, good music, and was on Nintendo Switch. That was about all of the good things we could say about it. So, we were admittedly nervous when Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania was first announced. It sounded great on paper - an HD remaster of the first two games and Super Monkey Ball Deluxe - but could Sega pull it off? The answer is yes, with the help of Yakuza studio Ryu Ga Gotoku. All of the news and reveals Sega showed off leading up to this game’s release weren't just fluff. Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania is a buffet of some of the best parts of the series, even if some of it is tough to chew and not every serving is a winner.
The most Monkey Ball yet
There is a lot in Super Monkey Ball Mania in terms of content. This game contains recreations of all 300 stages from Super Monkey Ball Deluxe, plus compilations of the original Super Monkey Ball and Super Monkey Ball 2 levels, and while some stages were crafted to make them easier (thank goodness) the truly hardcore can play their original forms in a special “Original Stage Mode.” Not to mention, this game is packed to the brim with other types of specialized modes. For example, there’s a Reverse Stage Mode, Golden Banana Mode in which you must collect all bananas to clear the level, Dark Banana Mode in which you must clear a stage without touching bad bananas, and so much more. Every level and stage offers cool and interesting challenges sure to put faithful Monkey Ball players to the test and even offer new and exciting approaches to the classic formula.
In case you don’t know the classic formula, every Super Monkey Ball level is a platform with a spawn point where you begin, an end point to reach, and bananas to grab for points (except in Dark Banana Mode). The game controls with incredible simplicity. One stick tilts the level so you can roll your monkey with increasing momentum and the other controls the camera. Moving feels great in Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania with all sorts of momentum and balance to take into consideration as you traverse obstacles. The remixes of the worlds are also stylish and flashy with some solid polish on their classic design. There's even remixed versions of most of the original musical tracks to go along with them, offering a really great blend of bouncy techno, electronica, and even a great ska main theme to go along with your monkey rolling adventures.
I will say, the camera is a little tough to contend with at times. It can feel finicky when you need to roll carefully across a narrow platform. Each level is mostly fun, challenging, and presents new gimmicks that are sometimes used later in more complex boards. However, Super Monkey Ball is built like an arcade game and there are some levels that felt like they were specifically built to eat quarters were there any to eat. You’ll be cruising along when suddenly it hits you with a ridiculously hard level or gimmick that kills you over and over again. On one hand, Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania doesn’t have lives, so you can try over and over again. On the other, it also has online leaderboards so the truly competitive have incentive to go as fast as possible, get as many bananas as possible, and not lose if they want to score high.
Thankfully, there’s also hope for those who don’t want to spend their day on one level. Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania has a number of features to help you keep your sanity should you choose to use them. There’s a Helper Mode that will allow you to slow time (though I could do without it reminding me it exists anytime I fail a level several times). It also has the option to skip the level at the cost of not getting a clear bonus of points, which is what you use to buy music, modes, characters, and more (more on that later). Finally, you can buy a jump function that can help you get out of some tight spots in levels you might otherwise not be able to overcome. Essentially, this game is a toughie in its normal state with plenty of fun ways to challenge you, but there’s also all sorts of ways to soften the intensity too. I really enjoyed that range and I’m sure players of all skill levels will too.
Four little monkeys partying in the ball
When I say Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania isn’t lacking for content, I mean Sega and Ryu Ga Gotoku seemingly pulled out all the stops. All of Super Monkey Ball Deluxe’s party games return in this compilation. My favorite has always been Monkey Target. Hitting a ramp, gliding through the air, and trying to hit island targets in the middle of the ocean for points feels as good to me as ever here. Monkey Bowling and Monkey Golf are similarly relaxing and enjoyable forays. I will admit though, not all of these returning games are winners, no matter how much polish is given to them. Monkey Fight in particular is just too chaotic to be that much fun.
Additionally, while all of these games can be played solo or with local friends, there is no online play in Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania at all outside of leaderboards. That feels like a truly unfortunate miss in particular for Party Games. Every game I mentioned above would be an absolute thrill to play with my friends online if only the game allowed it. Otherwise, you’re just going to have to get together with buds for this one when you can.
The content doesn’t stop there though. As I mentioned before, there’s an in-game shop. Everything you do in Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania earns you points to spend on various items. This is how you unlock the aforementioned Original Stage Mode, Dark/Golden Banana Modes, Jump feature, and other main game bonuses. You can also unlock costumes for any of the regular roster and guest characters like Sonic, Tails, Kiryu from Yakuza, and Beat from Jet Set Radio, who each have their own pickups in levels (Sonic and Tails collect rings instead of bananas for example). Unfortunately, you can’t play as the guest characters in the Party Games for some strange reason. Even so, it’s easy to collect points in this game and unlock new content to keep challenging yourself in new ways or even make the game easier.
Have yourself a Monkey Ball
Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania truly does feel like a copious offering of many things good in the franchise with a vibrant touch-up. There’s no lack of things to do and challenges to overcome again and again. The polish, music, and occasional level rearrangement makes everything feel fresh and great and you can even challenge the unarranged levels as a bonus. The Party Games are also loads of fun, even if some are better than others. The camera controls are tough to work around and it’s pretty silly that you can’t play Party Games online or with the unlockable characters. That said, Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania delivers a mostly delicious and nearly never-ending buffet of bananas and challenges to keep pretty much any player rolling for a good, long time.
This review is based on a PS5 digital copy supplied by the publisher. Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania is set to come out on Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and PC via Steam on October 5, 2021.
Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania
- 300 main levels & even more levels in challenge modes
- Levels are updated and well-polished
- Original levels are still available
- Music is remixed and fantastic throughout
- 12 party games with solo & local multiplayer option
- Plenty of outfits, modes, costumes, and guest characters to unlock
- Several features to make the game easier
- Global and friend leaderboards to challenge yourself to be the best
- Some levels are "arcade allowance eater" hard
- Camera is finicky and difficult at times
- No online play, even in Party Games
- Guest and unlock characters can't be played in Party Games