Thanks to SEGA USA for the review code
Title: Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD
System: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 10/29/2019
In this physics platformer, you take control of Aiai and his monkey friends as they set off to explore several worlds in search of their banana horde! Oddly enough, despite an intro movie for this game existing originally, I couldn’t seem to get it to play in this remake at all, so the plot pretty much is thrown to the wayside here, Although the ending’s still here.
Being someone who’s only prior Monkey Ball experience was Super Monkey Ball 3D, I’m happy to say that this game looks far, far better than that one ever did, with much better looking environments and levels that don’t feel nearly as claustrophobic as in that case. Having no prior experience with the Wii version, I wasn’t really able to do much of a comparison outside of comparing what I had in my hands with old footage from the original game, but I can also say with confidence that the cleaner art style and superior UI do a lot of work to help in this game’s favor, and it looks absolutely stunning in both handheld and docked modes.
The music is surprisingly good too, with a very catchy main/credits theme, alongside some world themes that serve to be pretty memorable and stuck in my head both in and out of the game. Apparently a lot of these ended up being replacements of tracks originally composed by NoisyCroak, (the musical studio behind the godlike Super Mystery Dungeon OST) with one track I immediately recognized from my time spent playing Monkey Ball 3D. Some of these are from that game, while a few others appear to be brand new or from sources I couldn’t quite recognize. Either way, this tracklist does work well in the game’s favor and I couldn’t think of a single song I hated. (even if I did hear a particular world theme for hours on end for a reason I’ll explain later)
Banana Blitz HD is a platformer where the main goal of each stage is to tilt the entire board in order to manipulate your chosen character to reach the goal and move onto the next stage, and the controls are fairly simple for such a task. Gone are the motion-focused controls from the Wii original, replaced with a simple, traditional control scheme of tilting the left analog stick to move and pressing the A button to jump. Considering how building up speed in this game can help a lot to provide the player with shortcuts if they use the jump properly, these controls work exceptionally well, being solid and tight enough that I only felt issues with them in the second to last world of the main story, and that was mainly due to level design.
Speaking of level design, it’s probably best to note that as a semi-newcomer to the Monkey Ball series, my only prior experience with the franchise before this game was the dreadful 3DS game. In that title I could vividly remember any possibility of a cool shortcut or fun challenge being rendered moot by the fact that the game would heavily force guardrails or borders to ensure that you wouldn’t die so easily, and the game became tremendously boring and soulless.
I’m utterly thankful to see hardly any of that here, though this game did make me pretty worried in the first half of the adventure since there are still a lot of guardrails and simple paths that you’re encouraged to take, and the first two worlds don’t even try to put up any resistance. The good news on that front is that the game still let me try and go out of bounds due to the jump button, and I was able to find ways to speed through those worlds in no time at all, with the only thing slowing the pace to a crawl being the boss battles at the end of a world.
Somehow, Banana Blitz thought it would be a good idea to add bosses to the mix, and while they could work OK in theory, seven of them are stupidly easy and require waiting around for the boss to expose themselves before hitting them until they die, making those levels feel less like a challenge and more like a test of patience. I never felt intimidated by them until the final boss of the entire game, which felt like a cruel difficulty spike until I found a safe spot in the area to stand still and become immune from any of his efforts to blow you off the stage, making that fight an utter joke as well. These are by far some of the worst stages in the entire game, but they aren’t the absolute worst, and thankfully a majority of these stages are fun.
Worlds 3-6 went by with pretty much no problem, ramping up the difficulty in reasonable ways and making it pretty enjoyable to try and go for the challenge medals. (one of which requires you to beat the whole world without continuing which honestly isn’t that difficult for most of these) However, even as I was enjoying my time going through these worlds, the cracks in the game design became pretty obvious, and there were moments where I could go “Oh yeah, that was definitely made with the Wii in mind!”
Such moments included sections of levels where I had to just wait for a moving platform to swing back to me, with absolutely nothing to do as I was waiting, to this dreadful, dreadful hamster wheel stage where if you don’t immediately reach the wheel near the beginning of the stage, then you’ll have to wait a good 30 seconds or more for it to come back to you. This aforementioned stage also requires that you jump from one slow-moving wheel to another, and it’s a level that made me bored out of my skull after the relatively fast pacing of everything else.
What takes the cake for a bad transition from motion to button however, comes from World 7. I was seriously on the verge of ragequiting this otherwise engaging game due to the nonsense this world throws at you, which made me realize that swapping a motion-intended control scheme doesn’t magically make things good. By this point, the difficulty ramps up a bit and you get introduced to narrower platforms, but things are still manageable enough that with patience and careful practice you can still clear the previous seven worlds even if you may not get the gold medal while doing so. Boring hamster wheel stage and bosses aside, the game at least doesn’t become hairpulling. Then World 7 kicks in and wants to murder you dead. No, World 7 isn’t just a difficulty spike, it’s a freaking difficulty sword, thanks to some horrendous level design changes and the way the camera works in this game with certain stages. You see, 7-1 starts off as typical as the previous levels, but then 7-2 starts, and I spent a good two and a half hours trying to beat this darn level with every single character I could throw at it.
The main gimmick of 7-2 is that you have to roll on narrow platforms and then jump between them, including a pair of platforms that form a circle. Considering how it’s super easy for you to fall off if you so much as breathe on the stick during these segments, jumping from one narrow platform to another is a nightmare. Combine that with a camera that you can’t manually rotate, and navigating the circular narrow platform becomes even more hellish. And then you have to do it all over again, only there’s a platform in the middle the second time around. There was a period where I was convinced my joycons were starting to slightly drift again, so I ended up using every single controller I owned to try and beat this, but to no avail. Pro Controller? Still fell off the narrow platform. Gamecube Controller? Despite the better stick, I still couldn’t balance. My 8-Direction Hayabusa arcade stick? Definitely not a good choice on my part. Nothing would seem to work, so it definitely wasn’t the controller.
Thus it was my fault, but also not fully. The only way I was able to escape from this horrible stage after hundreds of lives lost and all the characters thrown at it dozens of times was to just go fast as the Baby character. He’s the smallest in the game by far and has a better time staying on the narrow platforms compared to anyone else. Eventually, after nearly a half hour straight attempting the stage with him, I finally reached the goal, only for the world to continue to confuse me. One stage was pitifully easy and linear, while another stage seemed to be the same, only for it to shoot my monkey out of a tube at the end and hit the top of the goal, sending me to my death. The next time I tried while not touching the controller, just like before, I somehow made it. Afterwards, I beat the other levels with almost no issues and even the boss was a joke like before, which made the whole world feel like a fever dream, especially since World 8 was business as usual difficulty wise and felt fine.
This weird difficulty curve and luck-based aspects made me so confused that I searched up the original Wii World 7, to see how it felt so terrible, and then I found the answer. You see, Wii 7-2 had those narrow platforms be a pair of rails that would hold your ball in place, and you just jump from one safe rail pair to another. But in Banana Blitz HD, they just swapped them with narrow platforms and called it a day, which completely changes the entire design of the level. Now instead of jumping from one platform you’re locked into to another, you have to do it with super narrow and finicky platforms where you can die a lot more easily. Yet they left the layout pretty much the exact same as if it was made with the original design in mind, which just begged the question to me if this stage was even playtested. Hellish World 7 aside, I still had decent fun with the main game, even if the bosses were generic and the early stages were a bit boring, and I even was able to beat the game in the end. I just wish that world was better balanced as it was seriously out of place compared to everything else in the game.
That’s not all Banana Blitz HD has to offer, since besides the main game you also have a collection of minigames and two online modes. The minigames feel like your standard party game nonsense, and unfortunately even with a group of three people playing together only two of them had any sort of fun factor, those being the Seesaw Ball and the Snowboarding minigame. The Seesaw Ball is easily the best minigame in the entire package, as it’s a great scorechaser where the main goal is to tilt yourself to reach the bottom of the stage and gain the most points.
Sadly, literally every other minigame besides those two sucks in some way, from a boring space shooter, an imprecise slingshot game, a godawful top-down version of the main game that feels more slippery than ever before, a stupid whack-a-mole game, and this lame cannon minigame where you’re supposed to land on a platform in your ball form, but the gliding controls feel horrible and almost never work. Considering how one of the online modes is playing all ten of these back to back for a combined high-score, I cannot recommend you even step foot in that mode for your own sanity, as the minigames are truly the worst part of the package save for the two that are actually fun.
Last but not least, is the other online mode, that being a Time Attack where you clear the first world, worlds 1-5, and an expert setting with more worlds in as fast of a time as possible. For the option that lets you play just world 1, it’s a fantastic way to test your speedrunning skills against others, and I really wish that you could do this for each individual world in the game. Unfortunately, for any worlds past 1, you have to do them gauntlet style, and since it includes all the boss fights, that makes the medium difficulty with 1-5 so tedious that I nearly dozed off by the time I reached World 5. I don’t even want to think about how dull the Expert mode with all the worlds combined would be. So while it’s a great idea, I think it would have worked better if you could just do world by world instead of forcing the others into tedious gauntlets.
In conclusion, Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD is a game that I really enjoyed at first, only for things to hit a brick wall upon noticing the edits they made to try and change levels with normal controls in mind, as with the case with the aforementioned hellish challenge that is Stage 7-2, alongside those boring waiting levels and boss fights. The core gameplay is very enjoyable, but outside of gaining all the gold medals and unlocking the secret character for beating the game, there really isn’t much of a reason to go back into these worlds save for the time attack, which doesn’t even cover the worlds individually anyway! Those hoping for a more arcade-y experience like the first three Monkey Ball games will be disappointed that the core level designs are relatively unchanged, and when they are tweaked it’s almost always for the worse.
While I hoped for some brand new exclusive stages to this remake, (everything here was pretty much in the Wii game save for the online modes and the new costumes/character) what we have remade here is still far more enjoyable than stages from games such as Super Monkey Ball 3D, so I feel that this series might get back on the right track if they make a new game or remade Monkey Ball/Super 1/2 with this game’s engine. After all, I would really like to try those games out after the rollercoaster of an experience that was this game, but I wouldn’t mind having a brand new game in this same engine, free from having to edit strange level designs from a game that’s 13 years old. If you didn’t like the original Banana Blitz, then this will not change your mind at all.
I give Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD a 6 out of 10.