‘Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania’ review: a rollicking revival for newcomers and fans

Why Ai Man

S
uper Monkey Ball
has always been a blind spot for me, despite how much I love the premise. You’re an adorable little primate in a gachapon capsule, and you have to hurtle, at ridiculous speeds, down tracks covered in absurd architecture. There’s a goal down there somewhere, and you’re going to have to fit your chunky ball between its posts. Chaos ensues…

Unfortunately, the most recent games in the series have been poorly received, and the franchise has slipped away from its glory days back in the early 2000s. However! To celebrate the 20th anniversary of Super Monkey Ball, SEGA has delivered a pretty hefty remaster package for all of us who need to get up to speed. Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania contains over 300 stages from Super Monkey Ball, Super Monkey Ball 2 and Super Monkey Ball Deluxe. So that’s all the best levels from the best games in the series, polished up for modern consoles and PC.

It’s the perfect entry point for newcomers like me, but I’m sure veterans would get a kick out of it thanks to all of the new special modes and customization options. There are also ranking systems in place so that you can put your best times in and compete with the rest of the world, which I’m sure will be the main draw for returning rollers. Super Monkey Ball speedruns are feats of pure bravery and persistence, and I love that this bundle of joy will likely invigorate the community even further.

Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania
Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania. Credit: Sega

You’ll know very quickly whether you like the gameplay loop or not, and for me, it was the unique feeling of falling that hooked me in. When you drop off the track to find a shortcut, or purposefully have to freefall towards a goal, you get to play with gravity and try to arc your monkey onto the goal. It takes a lot of practice to get right, but when you manage it the feeling is unreal. Few games offer you this kind of game-breaking freedom, where you’re able to push hard against the physics system to do the impossible. It’s so refreshing, and the HD Rumble elevates every bump and knock.

Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania’s soundtrack is as much fun as its gameplay too. It features the kind of music you could easily lose your nut to, with plenty of pounding bassline and smiley synth stabs. Every song feels like a Vengaboys loosie that you want to hear blasting out of some woofers in an empty warehouse. When you switch the game off after a long evening of banana collecting, it can feel like you’re stumbling out for a kebab after a heavy night of clubbing. Even when you get to chillwave underwater worlds, the tunes are all well worth a wheel up.

The obstacles peppered throughout the game are all so inventive, and they can be an absolute nightmare to overcome. But when you finally surpass a tricky level, the satisfaction is euphoric. The agony of slamming into one of the poles instead of threading the needle is difficult to stomach, but I still pressed on in spite of that because of how rewarding Super Monkey Ball is. Few games are so brutal in their difficulty, but there’s a very good challenge ramp here that helps you know when to take it slow and make minuscule movements.

You can also activate a helper system with slow-motion and extra time if you’re struggling. Maybe you just want to enjoy the levels without all of the stress, and that’s fine! Banana Mania allows for that.

Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania
Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania. Credit: Sega

One of my favourites turned the goals into skateboarders riding a halfpipe, and you’re tasked to slot in as they come down. Other levels throw revolving combs at the player and gears with gaps in the middle. The puzzles are consistently smart and so creative, to help tease out all of the gaps in your Monkey Ball abilities. The best moments are where there’s a tell and after hours of trying you eventually figure it out with a eureka moment that unlocks the conceit of the level. And even if you do get tired of a particular world’s quirks, there’s always a new zone full of cool ideas right around the corner, like the candy-sweet amusement park’s wormholes and free falls.

You can activate the accelerometer in the options menu if you like, which, in the later levels, feels like trying to pilot an aeroplane made out of mozzarella cheese. That’s not to say it isn’t responsive, as the amount of tiny motion-controlled movements you can manage with the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller is seriously impressive. It’s just not for the faint of heart, honestly. I really appreciated the option to use it at least, and it can be super rewarding to trial in the earlier parts of the game.

As for the story, it’s about as bonkers as you might expect. Good if you like interludes with nonsensical cartoons about bombs and baboons that end in dance parties and squeaking. I mostly watch them until I feel like I’ve lost enough brain cells, and then skip on to the next world.

Using points you earn from completing levels, you can change the costume of each main monkey by buying them streetwear outfits. This feels very on-brand for Nagoshi-san and Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio. There are special SEGA characters to unlock too, including Beat from Jet Set Radio, which is the most love SEGA has given that incredible but sadly dormant franchise in ages. They don’t offer much beyond a few visual tweaks, but it’s fun to see Kazuma Kiryu and Tails rolling around these bonkers environments. It’ll give you a nice break from the repetitive sound effects that Ai-Ai spits out, too.

And if that wasn’t enough to convince you, the Banana Mania package also comes with 12 brilliant party games that you can play against the computer or enjoy with your friends. I like to think that the developers just sat in a meeting room with a whiteboard that said ‘Monkey + ?’ and led from there. Individual games like Monkey Golf and Monkey Football aren’t going to give the mainline sports franchises a run for their money, but they’re still a lot of fun and confidently silly to boot, which is always a bonus. I particularly liked the Monkey Dogfight mode where you can get into a chibi Battle Royale as you float around Turtle Island in your opened capsule, packing serious heat.

Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania releases on October 1. The game will be available on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S and Nintendo Switch. We reviewed the Nintendo Switch version. 

The Verdict

Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania is a bumper remaster package that has clearly been made with love by Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio. It contains all of the best levels from the series’ most beloved entries, a fleshed-out ranking system for the most ambitious players and a dozen party games to extend its lifespan. With cute crossover characters, rewarding puzzles and an absolutely banging soundtrack, you’d be foolish to skip this one if you’re yet to engage with the Super Monkey Ball franchise.

  • A thumping soundtrack
  • Stacks of brilliant levels with plenty of replay value
  • Leaderboards, special modes and customization options for returning players

Cons

  • The brutal difficulty may turn some players off
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