Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania Review – Potassichism

Posted October 4, 2021 by James Flaherty in Nerdy Bits

Developer: Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio

Publisher: Sega

Available on: PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Steam, and Nintendo Switch (reviewed)

Release date: October 5, 2021 (October 1, 2021 for owners of the digital Deluxe Edition)

Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania is a remake of Super Monkey Ball 1, 2, and Deluxe. I haven’t played the originals, so I can’t honestly compare and contrast them with this collection. Even if the changes here made everything objectively worse, I couldn’t tell you. So, I’ll be assessing Banana Mania for what it is. The stages have all been remade in a new engine, so subtle differences here may be counterintuitive to the experience for anyone who’s played or even mastered the originals; just something to keep in mind.

Super Monkey Ball is the nonpareil of taking a simple, arcade-born gameplay concept and pushing it to its logical extreme. There’s a monkey in a ball, and that monkey needs to reach the goal at the end of the stage. Rather than control the monkey directly, you possess the stage itself and tilt it to get the ball rolling where it needs to go. It’s simple enough for anyone to understand. The genius here is achieved through great level design; 300 stages in total, and only a handful of misses. Super Monkey Ball 2’s story mode is my preferred attraction here, sporting a whopping 100 (mostly) excellent and creative stages split across 10 worlds, all with interesting backdrops. One world will have you precariously perched over a pot of radishes and fish, while another will have you whittling away inside a whale, just to list a couple examples. It starts out deceptively easy, but by the halfway point, the challenge exponentially ramps up. This is one of the hardest games I’ve ever played, full stop. There are a few clunker stages, such as “Launchers,” which has you using said launchers to propel yourself up a very tall tower while the goal rotates around it; the camera here makes it essentially luck-based whether you’ll hit the goal, contrasting with the skill-oriented design for the vast majority of stages.

I don’t see this stage get brought up much, but “Soft Cream” was one of the absolute hardest stages for me in SMB2’s story mode. This video makes it look easy, but it took me forever to get this perfect run.

There’s a lot of content here. Challenge Mode is where the bulk of stages reside. Here, you choose between SMB1 and 2 (1’s stages are exclusive to this mode, as it was the main mode in the original), and play through a number of stages in one go (the number is decided by which difficulty you choose), without being able to leave and return like in story mode. Beating the Expert difficulty unlocks Master, and completing that unlocks Marathon, both difficulties including even more stages (unlocking these is easier said than done, and I sure as heck haven’t done it yet). Additional modes can be purchased using points earned through collecting bananas littering the stages and completing mission challenges (such as finishing the stage in 10 seconds, reaching an alternate goal, or collecting every banana, the latter of which is actually impossible in many stages). The most substantial of these unlockable modes are Original Stage Mode, which includes the original versions of 23 notoriously difficult stages that had their level designs altered; and DX mode, which includes the 40+ Deluxe-exclusive stages. I found these Deluxe stages to be hit or miss; much easier than SMB1 and 2’s (barring a few exceptions) and relying more on spectacle gimmicks than substance; still fun to be had, but lackluster compared to the rest of the package. Other brand new modes include Golden Banana Mode, where you must collect every banana across 10 stages; Dark Banana Mode, where you avoid rotten bananas on the way to the goal; and Reverse Mode, where the starting point and goal posts are swapped. If you just can’t stay on the track, new accessibility features are available, such as extending the 60 second time limit, slowing down time, and an unlockable jump pulled straight from Banana Blitz. Lives have been removed, which does make the experience more bearable on the whole, but it would’ve been nice to have the option, similar to Crash 4’s Retro mode. Outside of the levels, the game also sports several sport-themed party games; I don’t have much to comment on, but from what I played of them, they seem like they’d be pretty fun for a get together.

Kazuma Kiryu (of Yakuza fame) is available for purchase at the points shop. When playing as him, all the bananas become Staminan X, and it’s just AWESOME. Would’ve liked a few voice acted grunts or phrases, but alas…

The only truly detrimental element to the gameplay is the camera, but it is a rather unfortunate one. The automatic camera isn’t quick enough to align itself behind you, and manual adjustment won’t always cut it when time and precision are of the essence. This isn’t a huge issue with every stage, but it will crop up on harder stages (with thinner bridges), where taking the time to move the camera will likely result in slipping off the stage. After 15 hours of playtime, I came to discover that turning off the manual camera seemingly improves the slipperiness of the controls (shoutout to YouTuber Nathaniel Bandy and his “How Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania TRIGGERS you!” video, where I recently learned about this). Bandy didn’t offer a reason for why this may be the case, but I theorize this is due to how the camera affects the stage tilting deadzone, though I’m still not sure why this happens. Hell, it could just be an effective placebo (I don’t think it is, though). Whatever the case, movement does genuinely feel more precise this way. Turning off camera control comes at the cost of, well… being able to control the camera, the lack of which can also be a major hindrance. I tried turning off camera control but turning up the sensitivity to compensate for it, and while the camera certainly snapped around faster, it also made the controls very slippery. So, you basically need to decide between either a manual camera or more precise controls. It’s unfortunate that there’s no perfect in-between here, such as a button for recentering the camera; that alone would have resolved many camera gripes, and made switching off camera control the definitive option. I’m definitely split on this, but I’ll probably stick with having the camera on, even at the cost of some precision, since I’ve already played for many hours that way. Try both out for yourself, see which style you prefer. I’m sure Sega could patch in some sort of workaround, but for now, the camera is the game’s most pervasive flaw.

Above are two videos showcasing a very difficult stage known as “Strata,” which is let down by both camera configurations. The top video has the camera control turned off, which feels tighter, but the speed at which the camera recenters is fatal. The bottom video has manual camera control turned on, which as you can see, is unreliably slow for a stage where every moment counts (and too unwieldy with higher camera sensitivity). A dedicated recenter button would’ve gone a long way here.

The updated visuals and backdrops all look quite nice and detailed, and the game performs near-flawlessly at 60fps on Switch, both docked and handheld; a very nice fit for the system, due to its pick up and play nature. The redone soundtrack contains some pretty nice tunes that I never get tired of hearing, no matter how long I spend on a specific level theme, my favorites being the absolute bop themes to “Inside a Whale,” “Bubbly Washing Machine,” and “Clock Tower Factory,” all from SMB2, as well as “Arctic” from SMB1 (please put the OST on Spotify, Sega, I’m begging you). The music here is completely different from the synth-heavy original OST, but you do have the option of purchasing the “Classic Soundtrack” DLC pack at release… 

Okay, so we’ve been talking monkeys, but now let’s shift our discussion to the elephant in the room: Sega’s penchant for gratuitous day 1 DLC. Persona 5 Royal, Persona 5 Strikers, Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD, and Sonic Colors: Ultimate all launched with loads of DLC that should’ve been included in the games proper. I’ll excuse the Persona 5 Morgana and Hello Kitty DLC, as those are coming a month or so after launch, but there’s no good reason for not having the original soundtrack included as a base option here ala Spyro Reignited Trilogy. Would’ve been nice to have the classic character skins and extra cosmetic packs included too, but alas no; lifelong fans are having their favorite music tracks and preferred character outfits held hostage because Sega needs a little more grease for the gears. This isn’t just a Sega/Atlus issue, but I feel they are among the most shameless. All of this is made more unfortunate by the fact that, outside of the levels themselves, the package feels barebones and rushed. The menus are sterile (as well as run at 30fps, feeling pretty choppy compared to the rest of the game), the purchasable cosmetics are bland and limited in quantity; and the originally fully 3D animated cutscenes from SMB2’s story mode have been changed to moving comic panels, which feel much cheaper and just kinda lame (I know I said I couldn’t compare this collection to the originals, but that’s a pretty notable downgrade worth mentioning).

“8 Bracelets,” another waking nightmare. Check out this video, damn I’m good! (just don’t ever ask me to do it again)

Alright, let’s wrap things up on a less sour note. To tell you the truth, I’m actually playing the SMB1 Expert Challenge Mode right now, in between writing this review. I’m on stage 14 out of 60 “Invasion,” having to parkour over precarious pathways while moving bumpers fling me off the stage, exterminating my run like Daleks. I’m sure you’ve heard Einstein’s quote, “Insanity is trying the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Well, if that’s the case, then I’ve absolutely gone bananas after playing Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania. My dopamine receptors are banana pudding and these stages are vanilla wafers. Trying the same thing over and over is absolutely required in Super Monkey Ball. Even when you know what must be done and which route to take, minute differences to your balance, speed, momentum, and trajectory is often the difference between the announcer shouting “GOAL” or “FALL OUT” (a phrase I have heard over a thousand times and will forever haunt me). I started Banana Mania as a complete novice to the series, and now I can reasonably claim to be mediocre. No matter how many times I fail a stage, I’m never frustrated beyond a few cathartic swears. Many times when a new stage presents itself, I let out exclamations like “are you kidding me?” and “how am I expected to finish this?” Every time I say these things, I have a smile on my face. I smile, because I know just how satisfying it’s going to feel once I finally reach the accursed goal. Triumph keeps me sane, yet creativity keeps me hooked, as I look forward to what’s in store with the next inventive stage. It’s always just one more stage before bed, isn’t it?

Best Sonic game in a very long time.

I had a blast with Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania. I’ll be periodically dipping back in to replay SMB2’s awesome story mode, unlock new stages in challenge mode, and peruse the plethora of additional modes, as well as just hone my skill and stage optimization. Super Monkey Ball is one of the most satisfying games to become good at, since the skill ceiling is out of orbit. An indecisive, imperfect camera does sour the fun, but great level design and an addictive satisfaction shine through with these certified arcade classics. Roll out and buy it.



P.S. Okay, funny story: by the time I finished this review, I had made it to stage 56 out of 60 of SMB1 Expert challenge mode (which is a very hard mode, mind you), when I reached a point in the stage where I knew that I didn’t have enough speed to advance. Rather than wait out the clock or hurl myself off, I chose to retry from the pause menu. Unlike in story mode where it puts you at the start of the stage, this sent me ALL THE WAY THE BACK to stage 1. Don’t make the same mistake. I hate this game.

About the Author

James Flaherty