Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania – It’s Hard to Love

Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania – It’s Hard to Love

One fact that many people seem to not realize is that video games are not a zero sum game. Just because one game does one thing right or better than another does not diminish the quality of the game someone is trying to compare – for the most part. One exception exists for this rule, remasters. What makes reviewing Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania interesting is that the game is a remaster. More specifically, a remaster of the first, second, and Deluxe titles in the series as a way of celebrating the franchise’s 20th anniversary. Since this game is a remaster, we must look at this subsequent rerelease in regards to how it fixes and improves upon the original game. Thus, this review’s recommendation is based on the merits of both the game itself and the originals. Let’s answer the burning question on everyone’s mind: is Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania worth our time?

Options menu in Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania.

Presentation

Immediately, the design and aesthetic of the menu screens, HUD elements, and the monkeys themselves are that of the remaster released last year, Super Monkey Ball Banana Blitz HD. They are sleek, sharp, and modern. The main menu is charming with looping animations of the monkeys for every menu option. The bright yellow background contrasted with the black makes everything pop with life. Considering that the character designs are more cartoon-y than the original titles, the developers really nailed the comic book feeling.

In Story Mode, the cutscenes that defined the mode in the original are missing entirely. Instead, the developers opted toward a comic/slideshow-esque storytelling. All the characters appear as cut-outs with no actual voice-acting. No words, no speaking, just changing character images to convey the plot and the monkeys’ emotions. They all last for a few seconds and, without any knowledge of the original game, new players will find themselves confused with what the story is about. Sure, the SMB2 story is not very good, but players could at least comprehend the plot. Oddly, the main villain, Dr. Bad-Boon is not redesigned to fit the new style. Still, he looks as good as always. Unfortunately, he’s not an unlockable character for the main game (a missed opportunity). At least his design held up really well over the years.

The music is also complimentary to these elements and always sounds pleasant when booting up the game. Speaking of sound, the movement of the monkeys sounds bubbly and adds to the bounciness of the game’s atmosphere. One issue that stands out is how the game handles the sound of the monkeys’ movement. They simply lack a sense of friction and velocity. In the original title, as the monkey moves faster, the sound of the ball rolling gets faster and louder as well as generating sparks at high speed. In Banana Mania, the rolling sound stops entirely and goes silent. Instead, streaks of wind appear on-screen to convey movement. Moving fast feels odd and not as satisfactory.

The sparks are also gone. A disappointment given that those things give the game charm and create immersion. Each music track of stages’ worlds are remixes of the originals. They fit well with modern atmosphere of the game, but they have a problem of feeling too same-y. Sure, some worlds have differentiation with instruments, but a lot of the music is very electronic in nature. The sounds kind of blend into one another when switching between worlds. Thankfully, in the deluxe version of the game (the one being reviewed here), the game contains the original soundtrack from the first two games. Players can switch between the original and new versions of the soundtrack if desired, a neat addition. Sadly, standard players must buy the original OST in order to use it, strange considering this remaster acts as a celebration of the SMB series.

In game, the graphics take on the Super Monkey Ball Banana Blitz aesthetic. Despite Banana Blitz being a game from 2006, 15 years ago, the style holds up incredibly well. Debatably, this style is timeless. The developers updated the stages to give them that same style, and the backgrounds are improved as well. They are far clearer to see and have more fidelity to them. Obviously, the graphics have improved in the 20 years since SMB1 released. Still, no one can ignore how the developers brought the graphics up to speed while keeping the magic of the classics. The developers also did well with translating extra characters such as Sonic and Hello Kitty into the game. They are fit with some of their own assets such as rings instead of bananas and look great rolling around. They added more than the original, and this move worked. Extra content is always welcomed!

Banana Mania introduces new challenge modes such as Dark Banana mode. Instead of collecting bananas, players must avoid them.

Gameplay

In the main game, the categories are separated by the Story Mode, Challenge Mode for SMB1 and SMB2, the Practice Modes for both SMB1 and SMB2, and a Special Mode (SMB standing for Super Monkey Ball). The developers made a good move by separating the first two games since in SMB Deluxe, all stages are combined. Not all players have the patience to sit through a 100 stage Expert mode as well as a long Master mode. Just like the originals, the goal is simple: players much reach the goal of a set of stages within the time limit while collecting bananas to earn points. The players have three difficulty modes, Casual, Advanced, Expert, Master, and Marathon. Casual is the easiest, Master is the hardest, and Marathon sees players completing every single stage of that game in order in a single play session. The objective has remained the same, but have the means to reach it changed? Well, yes.

The biggest change the developers implemented is actually a removal of a key component that has been there since the very beginning of the franchise, the lives systems – or lack thereof. In a shocking move, the developers decided to outright get rid of the need for lives and continues. Gone are the days of restarting because of losing all the lives accumulated over an expert level run. Veteran players understand that back then, in order to reach the extra and master stages, players either needed to not lose a single life or a continue. Since lives no longer exist, does the game still require players to complete certain difficulties without losing a life to gain access to their extra stages? Nope, falling off the stage has absolutely no penalties.

As odd as these facts may sound, players no longer need to play with perfect precision to access the stages that many people were not good enough to unlock. Once a player completes all the stages to a difficulty, the player immediately moves onto the Extra and Master stages as if they were already a part of that difficulty mode. This singular change now opens the game up for anyone to join and give a try. Yes, anyone can join, even people new to video games or those with disabilities or handicaps.

Not only does this game allow for button mapping, but the developers added a tool called Helper. When activated, the Helper tool does several things. Helper extends the time limit, gives the player a guide on where and how to reach the goal, and grants a slow down button. This button slows down time to allow for more precise movement which can make certain stages easier and save the player from a fall out. To make sure players challenge themselves, the Helper tool invalidates stage times for leaderboards, meaning that a player’s best time may only be added if said player completed the stage without it. Players are not allowed to use aids in the more competitive area of the game. Time Attack asks players to be at a certain skill level to tackle.

Furthermore, using Helper automatically locks players out of the Extra stages provided they are not at those stages already. Not only is the game discouraging players from relying on aids for success, the game also encourages players to develop their skills to get the most rewards. Plus, Banana Mania now has challenges, straightforward goals that grant Play Points to unlock other goodies. For instance, some of these challenges require completing difficulties without falling off the stage a certain number of times. Completing a challenge grants a sum of Play Points. Banana Mania unlocks all party games by default, unlike the original titles, so the developers created another avenue for players to spend their Play Points through character customization.

Funnily enough, for a game where players can see what’s happening inside their ball, players never had the ability to toy with the outfits the monkeys wear, let alone the ball itself. Now customization is possible. Not only can players change the colour and even design of the ball, they can also give their monkey a new outfit besides the alternate, pre-made outfits also found in the Point Store. Hats, shirts, shoes, and masks are available in the shop. The store is somewhat limited at the moment, but given that more DLC characters are coming, the developers will likely update the store too.

Challenge Mode also sees the introduction to Special Mode, a category that gives a twist to a number of stages. In this category, players will find playlists of stages whose objective is different than simply rolling into the goal. For example, Golden Banana Mode is about collecting all the bananas in a stage to advance to the next one. These stages are neat in that they ask players to take the harder paths in order to collect all bananas as a challenge. Reverse Mode is self-explanatory: players must complete stages in reverse, starting where the goal usually is and working backwards to reach the goal at what is normally the beginning of the stage. Some are easy, but others make use of the elements found on stage. Dark Banana Mode is the coolest as players must avoid picking up bananas littered throughout the stage. These stages require a degree of precision and patience to complete. They feel very satisfying to beat.

Besides the main game, players also have access to Party Games. The ability to play a multiplayer game with someone on the couch using the same screen is rather rare nowadays, and these party games are back in their glory. Each party game contains levels or environments from both SMB1 and SMB2 provided both modes were present in both games. Monkey Race has all the courses from both titles and plays just as nice as the original. All of them play well except for Monkey Target. This party game, for all intents and purposes, is broken. The problem is not how this mode is radically different than the original; the problem is that the physics hardly work. Success is hardly possible. Even with knowledge on how the mode works, it still plays awfully. The monkey descends no matter how well the player flies to the target. A mistake in recreating the mode in a new engine? Likely. Hopefully this mode gets fixed in a future update. For now, ignore it.

Well, so far, this game sounds like a lot of fun. All the content from the old games, a graphical overhaul, new content, and a revamped skill curve to encourage all kinds of people to play? Everything sounds great! They are great. At the same time, the title of this review suggests otherwise. What is with the reluctance to give this game a glowing recommendation?

Some Questionable Decisions

Some of these decisions range from being minor to bad. A minor issue is how the Story Mode plays out. Previously in SMB2, players could choose the order of the 10 stages to complete before moving onto the next world. However, in Banana Mania, players are no longer able to choose the order of stages they want to play. Instead, they must play the stages of each world in sequential order. Why the developers did not want players to choose which stage to beat is a tough reason to decipher. Is this change the end of the world? No, it is just an odd one although some are more than just “odd.”

As the game boots up, a screen pops up to say that Banana Mania runs on the Unity engine. This fact is important because the developers remade the entire game with a different set of tools and software. Logically, the game plays differently than what expected. Still, this game mostly plays like the originals, keyword “mostly.” Unsurprisingly, the physics model of Banana Mania is noticeably different. Monkeys accelerate faster, turn with stiffness, and bouncing off ledges is harder. A number of these changes make the monkeys easier to use, but they also make them feel rather unresponsive. In fact, some strategies for certain stages are now impossible to pull off.

Wanna try to clip the edge and bounce upward to the platform where the goal is “Wormhole?” Can’t do it. How about gaining momentum to launch the monkey into the goal on “Flat Maze?” Don’t bother. What about using the goal guard on “Spring Master” to propel the monkey into the goal as the stage is unravelling itself? Impossible. These examples are just a handful of what is no longer possible by the physics themselves. More exist. Some strategies have nothing to do with the physics and with other, seemingly unrelated instead.

Navigating the menu in Challenge Mode is cumbersome. Pausing the game creates a one second delay before being able to navigate the menu itself again, including unpausing the game. On the surface, this change curbs the use of the pause to buffer precise directional inputs (“pause buffering”). After all, pulling up the menu now also blocks the timer. This change kills the viability of pause buffering for anyone who wants to speedrun this game. However, players are now more prone to accidentally pressing a button too early and bringing up the wrong selection. Making frequent visits to the options menu are now unpleasant too. One second is not a lot, but those seconds quickly add up. Speedrunning is now harder at the cost of inconvenience.

As cool as Special Mode is, this category of stages really needed more time in the oven. In Golden Banana Mode, the developers really went overboard on the maze stages. Sure, they’re fun to explore, but “Crazy Maze” has a five minute time limit. Some stages overstay their welcome quickly. DX mode is confusing. This mode only contains the Deluxe levels and nowhere else. For a game advertised as being a remaster of SMB Deluxe, this game doesn’t get its own Challenge/Practice mode in the Main Game menu. No Deluxe version of Beginner, Advanced, Expert, or Master? Sure, Ultimate Mode is incredibly long, but why remove it? Why not keep the option for the hardcore players? Why can’t players play Deluxe like it’s its own game just like the other two here? DX mode feels neglected.

Dark Banana Mode is nightmarish. To simply put it, some stages are absurdly hard. “Twin Basin” and “Long Swing Bar” come to mind. “Twin Basin” is especially unforgiving. The first part makes players hug one side of the first half pipe to avoid the dark bananas. The second part is an indescribable mess. Dark bananas are all over the second half pipe here, and a single mistake is an immediate restart. The end of the stage doesn’t guarantee sanctuary because dark bananas float around the goal too! The stages feel even harder because of how the game as a whole handles and not just the monkeys’ movement.

The biggest problem with Banana Mania is something most people wouldn’t think about considering how this problem never originally existed – the camera. The issues with the camera either cause more problems or exacerbate others. To explain, the camera works differently than the original titles. In the original games, the camera always kept close behind the player to ensure that the player is always able to see what’s right in front of them. In Banana Mania, players can move the camera without moving the monkey while still using the same joystick to do so. Additionally, camera movement is exponential, not linear. When moving in one direction, if the camera is not facing the player’s input, then the camera will slowly move and then quickly snap in said direction only if the player keeps holding the joystick in that direction.

These properties result in a camera that hardly faces the player in the right direction, routinely lags behind the player, and can become either insensitive or too sensitive to movement. Some stages like “Exam-C” are now more tedious because players now need to take a moment to properly line up to clear thin wires and the such, even more than usual. Thankfully, the developers allow players to use the second joystick on their control to manually control the camera. However, again, those are flawed too. The manual camera controls are overridden when the player moves, and the manual camera needs constant adjustment. Sometimes it’s too sensitive or not sensitive enough. Players then need to navigate the sluggish options menu mid-game to get the most out of the camera, wasting time. Players can use the camera while rolling to stay orientated, but again, the game overrides those controls. Besides, the player shouldn’t be needing to use an extra button to compensate for a problem that doesn’t need to exist.

The camera is what kills the joy of many stages. It’s possible to complete reverse “Checkers” without ever looking backward to see where the monkey is headed because the camera refuses to face the right direction. The camera angle is also very low which makes the edge of the stage nearly impossible to see. If a stage has narrow platforms and bananas, then the low camera angle is blinding at full speed. Throughout the time preparing for this review, the game has been about battling the camera and not the stages.

On “Flat Maze,” the camera angle is so low that the platforms ahead are almost impossible to see.

Speaking of stages, some received changes, some good but others bad. Many stages, like “Air Hockey,” had their cycles and even goals changed. Doing so prevents players from immediately clearing the harder stages with ease. Exam-C had a time limit increase from 60 seconds to 90 seconds. Those changes are okay. What changes aren’t okay are making the obstacles less threatening or moving the goal outright. The developers changed many stages, but they tuned Master in SMB1 the most. “Wave Master” has slower moving platforms, making them easy to move from one to another. “Dodge Master” is easier to navigate with the poles moving much slower “Stamina Master” has wider platforms. “Monkey Master” had its goal moved from the tip of AiAi’s hair to his face, making the goal’s location easier to predict.

Now that lives no longer exist and the developers made many stages easier, the prestige of completing hard stages is absent. What made Super Monkey Ball iconic came from the challenge the game presented and the reward to overcoming it. In fact, the lack of challenge is one of many reasons why reviewers and players alike had issue with last year’s SMB remaster.  

The Verdict

This review covers a lot, from the good, the bad, to the down right ugly. Is this game worth picking up in spite of the problems? Not for the veteran players. This game, despite the massive problems in controls and occasionally level design, the game still has some very good moments. Banana Mania, while difficult in some places and too easy in others, can give that feeling of accomplishment in latter portion of Story mode and, yes, even SMB1 Master. Anyone who wants to have a taste of the classic Super Monkey Ball without having to spend tons of money on old games and aging hardware will find the convivence of this package great. Who knows, some of these things might get fixed in a later patch. The veteran player should shy away from this game. Speedrunning in this game lacks the depth of its predecessors, and the Time Attack feature is very basic. Plus, this game does not have a stage editor. A stage editor is a lot to ask, but the developers really missed a huge opportunity here. Veterans will want to seek the modding community to meet their Monkey Ball needs.

The team behind this remaster clearly has passion for the series. They made some serious missteps here, but they know what players have been asking for, and they delivered. If SEGA decides to green light a new entry, then Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio should be the ones behind the project.

What do you think of Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania? What are somethings you like or dislike about this remaster? Leave a comment below and share what you think! Remember to check out our YouTube channel and Twitter for more if you like what you read. Until next time, thank you for reading. Take care!

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