Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz

December 4, 2006

It was almost five years ago when the Nintendo GameCube first hit store shelves, and with it a handful of launch titles that would drive Nintendo into what is now considered the 128-bit generation. Among a majority of rough ports, a few games stood out as the system’s very first original offerings. One of these games was Super Monkey Ball, an offbeat arcade platformer that placed a colorful cast of cartoon primates into small translucent balls one would find in a corner-store vending machine. The game, though never quite reaching iconic popularity, received decent sales and prompted developer Amusement Vision to continue the series with a myriad sequels and off-shoots. Coinciding with the release of the Nintendo Wii, Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz is the sixth game in the series and the first to grace a next generation console. Just like the original, Banana Blitz does an excellent job at demonstrating the capabilities of new hardware right out of launch. Wii owners will undoubtedly find something to like in Banana Blitz, whether it’s the game’s ingeniously simple gameplay or its robust multiplayer options.

One of the Banana Blitz’s immediate strengths is its accessibility to players of all different skill levels. Even those who have never played a Monkey Ball game before will feel right at home after a mere moment of acquainting themselves with the game’s intuitive control scheme. The goal of single player mode is quite simple: players must guide their ball-encased monkey from one side of a course to another, using the Wii remote to “tilt” the landscape in order to move the ball forward, back, and side to the side. This is easier said than done, of course, as half of the game’s challenge is derived from the abundance of hazardous obstacles and unprotected ledges that stand in the monkey’s way. The other half lies in managing a monkey’s momentum, which can either lead to success or utter failure. The Wii remote is well equipped to handle this type of gameplay and it’s responsive enough to give players that much needed sense of control. Players will definitely encounter their fair share of near-death experiences as they grapple with the game’s uncompromisingly ruthless physics engine. There’s nothing quite as thrilling as sending a monkey full speed down a ramp, noticing a precarious ledge up ahead, and then quickly pulling back on the remote in a desperate attempt to reverse the primate’s direction, thus saving his or her life. Moments like this really showcase the level of precision and accuracy the Wii remote is capable of. If there was ever a game that needed the Wii to unlock its full potential, this is it.

Fans of the previous Super Monkey Ball games will notice a few changes this time around in Banana Blitz. By Pressing A or quickly flicking the Wii remote, players can finally make their monkey jump, opening a whole new realm of platforming possibilities. This added gameplay element delivers a refreshing experience to even the most extreme Super Monkey Ball fanatics. The game also introduces two new characters to the Monkey Ball team: the brilliant Doctor and the new girl in town, YanYan. What’s more, a player’s character choice will have a direct effect on gameplay, adding an entirely new layer of strategy to the core gameplay. Some monkeys excel at speed, while others can use their heavy weight to destroy certain obstacles in their paths. Certain levels definitely favor one set of stats over another, leaving it up to the player to choose the right primate for the job.

The game is split across 8 worlds, each with nine regular stages, a bonus stage, and a boss stage. Some players might be lulled into a false sense of security by the game’s colorful graphics and early difficulty level. On the contrary, the game becomes quite challenging after only a few stages, and the difficulty level only rises from there on out. Some sequences will need to be repeated countless times before victory is reached, and even with tons of practice, luck often plays a crucial role in the player’s success. The feeling of satisfaction the player feels after at last clearing a difficult stage is one rivaled by very few gaming experiences. The game’s boss fights also prove to be enjoyably formidable, yet their difficulty pales in comparison to some particularly frustrating stages. Thankfully, the game employs a forgiving continue system which allows players to resume their progress after a game over at the cost of the points accrued by earlier victories. In order to obtain a high score in each of the worlds, however, players will still need to proceed flawlessly.

While Banana Blitz’s single player portion will certainly require a fair amount of time to complete, the bulk of the game’s replay value lies in its hardy multiplayer party mode, which offers a whopping 50 mini games in which up to 4 players can compete. Some of these are reworked versions of Super Monkey Ball classics, but most are entirely new to the series. Each game makes use of the Wii Remote (and in some cases, the Nunchuck peripheral) in a unique way – a feature, which, in theory, should give players a good idea as to what the Wii is capable of doing. Unfortunately, some of the offerings, whether through poor implementation or just plain lack of enjoyment, fail to live up to the Super Monkey Ball name. Many of the games, such as Monkey Golf, suffer from faltering and unresponsive controls, marring what would be an otherwise pleasurable experience, while others, such as Monkey Darts, will simply make players wonder how quality control could allow such monstrosities through in the first place. Of course, there are some gems in the bunch, such as a full-fledged Monkey Racing game, but the majority range from mediocre to truly dreadful. Most are worth at least a play-through, but its likely only a handful will maintain players’ interests after the initial gimmickry of using the Wii remote has faded.

As a Wii title, Banana Blitz isn’t expected to completely revamp the series graphically, but it has made some slight stylistic alterations. Characters and environments have a much smoother, cartoonish look about them, which suits the game quite well. Each of the game’s eight words has a unique look and feel, which is accented by a competent selection in music. Voice work helps differentiate the six characters, and other sound effects appear when appropriate. Most importantly, the game maintains a high framerate and captures a great sense of speed, both of which are vital to the player’s success. While by no means a technical marvel, Banana Blitz has a wonderful sense of style which is more than adequately carried out by the Wii’s hardware.

Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz excels as both a technical demonstration of the Wii’s capabilities and a solid platformer in its own right. Although not all aspects of the game are as well developed as others, Banana Blitz’s lively atmosphere, combined with its tight controls, challenging gameplay, and tons of replay value make it an easily recommendable title for any Wii owner looking for an original experience on their new console.

Score: 86%

Score: 5/5

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