When I first loaded up Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania, the main feeling was familiarity. Setting aside that this one features hundreds of courses from Super Monkey Ball, Super Monkey Ball 2, and Super Monkey Ball Deluxe; Banana Mania is borrowing heavily from 2019’s Banana Blitz HD.
The same black and yellow menu theme and a similar music direction (and AiAi and the gang’s more modern looks) are back. If this ends up being the standard vibe of the series, it’d lead to Super Monkey Ball being one of the most cheerful games ever made. All the excited ooks and eeks and yahoos from its cast keep that vibe going into the stages, which is where familiarity gave way to full on nostalgia.
I jumped into Story Mode before anything else, where the plot of Super Monkey Ball 2 is recounted in a more minimal style as the gang watches it unfold on TV. It does mark the return of Dr. Bad-Boon, but ultimately these scenes felt tacked on compared to the rest of the package. Of course, I can’t say I know anyone who comes to Monkey Ball for the story (despite Baby canonically being AiAi and MeeMee’s time traveling son, which definitely needs more attention), with the main attraction being the returning courses.
Even if I haven’t played SMB2 in nearly two decades (and the first game even further back) there’s no forgetting courses this fantastic. After a dozen or so tame levels, with some high-speed slopes and tricky obstacle courses for good measure, Monkey Ball got weird on me and I was here for it. Giant combs, towering pistons, gravity-defying bends, and whatever the hell Arthropod is – all of these were instantly recognizable and immediately satisfying. It’s a testament to these original designs that they hold up all this time later, as the experience of actually playing Super Monkey Ball has returned to basics as presented here.
I’m not qualified to say how direct a recreation these are compared to the GameCube originals for things like speedrunning or stage-specific strategies and stunts, but based on how at home I felt I’d say Sega succeeded in that regard. As mentioned, it takes a bit to get through the quick and “basic” courses but by the fourth world I was fully onboard – actually cheering and laughing when old favorites would arrive and groaning with a smile when the game threw Launchers at me.
Other than Story, which leaned hard on SMB2 if my memory serves, I also took to the more arcadey Challenge Mode. These are separated by the game of origin, letting me roll through 35 of the first Super Monkey Ball’s courses specifically. Anyone after a cleaner trajectory when it comes to difficulty, I’d definitely suggest this mode over Story – it felt a more natural progression with just as many remembered levels.
We’ve yet to take on Party Games or cash in at the Point Shop (where you’ll find guest characters like Sonic, Beat, and Kiryu ready and waiting from the get-go), but I’m already riding the potassium high of this extra appealing remake. I’ve both lost sleep and been late to work over these primates and the orbs that hold them, and with plenty more still to see I have a feeling that’s going to continue.
Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania is heading to Switch, as well as PlayStation and Xbox consoles and PC, on October 5th. You can pre-order both the standard and Digital Deluxe editions now, with the latter giving you early access beginning October 1st and some extra DLC – including the games’ original music, and the ability to play as the monkeys in their original designs or even a Dreamcast. Yes, really.