Perhaps more than any other title in the series, Banana Blitz had the most to gain via a revisitation. Originally released for the Wii, it marked not just a new visual style for its primate cast and courses, but it saw control shift from surgeon-precise analog sticks to motion based Wiimote tilts. While not impossible to master, they were less than ideal and the general impression was that, as an entry, it could be comfortably slept on.
Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD, on the other hand, has done away with motion controls completely, offering not just the Joy-Con’s own sticks, but compatibility with several other control methods, including Switch compatible arcade sticks and the beloved GameCube controller. Playing with each of these options felt great and brought on a new level of dexterity and ease to the game. The upgraded visuals also suit the revamped art style this entry brought, making the monkeys and the worlds they roll through really pop.
Other changes have been made when it comes to games menus and UI (adopting a black and yellow theme throughout), as well as the music. The main theme song is infectious and keeps its Japanese lyrics, and some of the new world themes are catchy, or at least fitting in their own right. I had heard complaints about the original game’s soundtrack in the past, but found the new offerings serviceable. I do miss a few of the original offerings though, so this could all come down to personal taste in the end.
The stage tilting, monkey rolling of Super Monkey Ball is alive and well here in Banana Blitz HD’s Main Game, though there are some things to keep in mind with this particular entry. Seemingly to accommodate the original version’s motion controls, courses for the most part (and especially at the beginning of the game) feel wider and somewhat spacious. It’s less of a con than an observation, but paired with the art style it’s almost disarming compared to the GameCube pair of titles. This does give way to more daunting courses eventually though.
Courses themselves are fairly varied and challenging, but rarely did I feel overwhelmed or puzzled with how to reach the goal. I was able to complete nearly all of Banana Blitz HD’s courses ahead of writing this, with only the back half of its final world reigning over me. Ultimately, the game is one of the least demanding Monkey Ball games I’ve played, especially with the new analog controls. If you come to these for a challenge or just love the words “Fall Out!” it won’t disappoint, especially when it comes to Champion Medals, rewarded for completing a world of the game without using a continue.
Besides the more open design, the other defining element of Banana Blitz was jumping — a first for the series. This has an immediately noticeable effect on layouts and obstacles, but even more apparent is how it can shift how you approach a given course or situation. Rather than building momentum naturally with limited space, you can give a couple short hops to gain some speed. Cutting corners doesn’t feel like an accomplishment or a stunt, but instead just another tool. Precision, too, takes on a new element with needing to make tight and quickly stopped jumps. You’ll still come across areas where you have to navigate narrow pathways, sloping curves, and more gimmicky elements; it just seemed like I was doing a lot less rolling than jumping.
Also new this time around are boss fights. At the end of each world you’ll face off with a large enemy that you need to bonk on a clearly explained weak point. They may’ve been a new take on the series’ gameplay, but most of them feel slow and a little unwieldy. The fixed camera angles work fine for courses, but here they sometimes lead to losing track of the arena you’re in or an oncoming attack. Each fight also boils down to a waiting game to be able to hit their weak spot, drawing them out a little longer than I’d care for. There’s some creativity here, but nothing that can hold a candle to its courses.
Altogether, this makes a different Monkey Ball experience than really any other game in the series. While I’d vouch more for the GameCube pair overall, the improvements made to the core experience in Banana Blitz HD marks this as my favorite entry since that time and is a great step and roll forward towards a genuine series revival. At the least this is a one-of-a-kind game for Monkey Ball fans, and it’s back and better than before. Single-player is only half of this hi-def bunch though, and sadly, that second share isn’t quite as ripe.
Party Games have been a Super Monkey Ball staple since the beginning, though when it comes to Banana Blitz HD they come off as more of an afterthought. The original Wii Banana Blitz contained 50 such games, and while their quantity outshined their quality overall, seeing that number drop to only ten — and which ten they are — is a bit of a letdown. That’s furthered once you actually play the games, which don’t seem to have the same level of love as the Main Game poured into them.
Monkey Target is back, but other than that, none of the usual suspects are here. No Monkey Bowling is criminal, especially when what’s on offer doesn’t drive up excitement or feel all too enjoyable. There is replayability to be found here, but Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD’s Party Games aren’t where it’s at. I can’t see myself returning to these later on, even if I put time into wrapping up those remaining Main Game courses and Champion medals.
Also new to Banana Blitz HD are online leaderboard based takes on both its single and multiplayer based content. For those who love courses, Time Attack lets you go for the fastest times you can manage in some of the Main Game’s worlds, while Decathlon tasks you with securing the highest score across all ten Party Games. None of these have you actively against other players, but instead upload your time or score to compare with others.
Though it has some flaws in the overall package, Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD has a lot going for it when it comes to the Main Game. The new analog controls and other improvements give the game another chance to shine, and when it comes to its courses and the core Monkey Ball experience, they work wonderfully. This series was long overdue for a console return, and in that way the game succeeds. Boss battles feel a bit tacked on and the Party Games are a nearly complete letdown, but if you loved these monkeys before there’s still plenty of fun and challenge to be had in this game and the IP.
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System: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: October 29, 2019
Categories: Action, Arcade, Party, Platformer