Super Monkey Ball is one of those Sega franchises that doesn't seem to get enough love from the company itself despite being an excellent franchise. Debuting first as the arcade title Monkey Ball in the far off year of 2001, it took the simple concept of the old skill game Labyrinth (you know, the one with the ball bearings and the maze-- not the movie with David Bowie and contact juggling),added a colorful cast of monkeys inside of transparent balls, and simple movement only controls via a banana-shaped joystick. While successful, it didn't really hit its stride until released in Japan as a launch title for the GameCube, where it spawned many sequels and spin-offs, the best of which, in my humble opinion, is Super Monkey Ball 2. We haven't heard from the ball imprisoned AiAi, MiMi, GonGon, and Baby since 2014's mobile game Super Monkey Ball: Bounce that had more in common with Peggle than it did its own franchise. So after 5 long years, the monkeys are back, in an HD remaster of a Wii game, Super Monkey Ball Banana Blitz HD. Let's discuss.
Super Monkey Ball is one of those games that takes a simple concept and polishes it to a blinding sheen-- sure you've probably played a game about navigating a sphere in a maze, you've got your classics like Marble Madness or more contemporary stuff like Marble Blast but SMB outdid all those with pitch-perfect game control and physics. Rather than having direct control over your selected ball-imprisoned ape, you control them by tilting the world around them. All of these are masterfully implemented into a perfect skill-based game of navigating monkeys to goal points, and Super Monkey Ball Banana Blitz HD is no different. This is that mechanically perfect Monkey Ball maze navigating you loved, now with HD graphics.
There's plenty of levels here with a good difficulty curve that is absolutely enjoyable. Unlike the original titles this one actually has a jump button as well, which is okay, I guess, a lot of the fun of previous games was trying to find out how to build up speed and hit an obstacle at just the right angle to perform a jump. The jump button overall does add a bit of a traditional platform game style challenge to the Super Monkey Ball formula, but it doesn't really feel necessary. It probably seemed like a more innovative feature in the game's original Wii version, where the monkeys would jump with a flick of your Wii remote. That's right, this game was designed to be controlled via motion controls-- which brings me to one of my main issues with this game-- why give the HD treatment to a motion-controlled black sheep of the Monkey Ball family-like Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz when you could of went with one of the more acclaimed and fan-favorite titles like Super Monkey Ball 2? I mean, the switch from Wii-mote controlled motion hijinks to more precise traditional controls makes Banana Blitz infinitely more playable than it was before, but if you are going to skip the motion controls (they aren't even an option in Banana Blitz HD) why not just port over one of the games that was designed with traditional controls in mind? It's also is the only Monkey Ball game to have boss fights, but they aren't terribly interesting, and really just seem to get in the way of the meat of the game, the pitch-perfect monkey ball rolling.
Let's talk about those mini-games too, shall we? The Monkey Ball franchise has always come with a real scattershot collection of mini-games to go along with the monkeys-in-mazes single-player mode. They usually consist of stuff like the mini-golf inspired Monkey Golf, Monkey Billards, or fan-favorite Money Target, where players sort of ski-jump their monkey ball and then hang glide onto a target for points. Super Monkey Ball Banana Blitz HD doesn't have any of those. It's got a sad little collection of 10 mini-games that are uninspired and generally boring. Even the aforementioned Monkey Target feels off. Instead of fun stuff like Monkey Bowling or Monkey Fight, we get stuff like an uninspired top-down shoot'em up or a snowboard game that is barely as fun as the one in Final Fantasy VII. This is equally disappointing because the original Banana Blitz had 50(!) mini-games, but since they ditched the motion controls, they had to toss the majority of them.
For coming back from a 5-year hiatus, Super Monkey Ball Banana Blitz HD isn't really putting the franchise's best foot forward. The single-player is fantastic fun, and absolutely the monkey magic you remembered-- it's just the rest of the package is skimpy at best. Why they remastered Banana Blitz and not one of the better Monkey Ball titles I guess we'll never know, but the single-player monkeyventure is at least worth the price of admission. And hey, at least you can unlock Sonic the Hedgehog.