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Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD Review


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On 10/29/2019 at 09:00 AM by Nick DiMola

I can't track these changes.
RECOMMENDATION:

Unless a patch rolls out to ease the challenge, I'd suggest skipping this remaster.

It almost hurts to write that it’s been 13 years since Sega released Banana Blitz back on the Wii. At the time, I know I couldn’t have been more excited that we were about to see a Monkey Ball game that leveraged the motion capabilities of Nintendo’s hit system. However, when it finally released, I wasn’t thrilled with the results. Rather than leveraging the Wii remote in its horizontal orientation, like many other motion-centric games had, it forced you to point forward and contort your arm in awkward ways to tilt the stage. I quickly shelved the game and wrote it off as a failure. I suspect I wasn’t the only one, because after all these years Sega has released an HD remaster of the game leveraging more standard console controls using the analog stick. Unfortunately, the transition has introduced level design changes that bring things to a degree of difficulty that I’ve found to be insurmountable.

That concern aside for a moment, where Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD does shine is in its presentation. While the art direction in Monkey Ball has always made it look great, the resolution has always been low due to the time frame of its releases and platforms it’s been released on. But now we’re able to see the series in glorious full HD with a nice smooth 60 frames per second. As someone who picked up the series when it first showed up on the GameCube around launch, it was truly a treat to finally see Monkey Ball looking as good as I seem to remember it back in the standard definition days on our clunky CRT TVs.

With this great presentation and a strong start to the game, I was initially in love with Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD. The controls are as tight and responsive as I remember them being in the first two games on the GameCube and it was nice to finally experience the levels without the uncomfortable motion controls I hated in the original release. I was even forgiving of the horrible boss battles that still aren't great with analog stick controls, because it was just nice to have some new Monkey Ball to play. However, come stage five of the sixth world (Cobalt Caverns) something was awry and things became uncharacteristically difficult.

Anybody familiar with the series can attest to the brutal difficulty that some levels impose, but typically, there’s a nice gradual ramp up as the levels progress. But here, all of a sudden, I was faced with a challenge that didn’t match, and after clearing the aforementioned level, the difficulty became reasonable again. Though frustrating, I didn’t think anything of it, assuming it was an outlier. Though with this level in the mix, a Gold Medal, which comes with completing a world without using a continue, seemed like a nigh impossibility.

What I didn't realize is that the difficulty was due to ramp again soon in the second stage of World Seven (Volcanic Pools), thus marking the end of my Monkey Ball journey. The maneuvers expected of me were seemingly impossible. I’d wager that I went through roughly 200 lives before I just decided I’m not going to try anymore. Again, the difficulty when compared to the first stage, was absolutely out of control. It was at this point that I decided to consult YouTube on what this stage originally looked like in the Wii release.

What I found is that the original stage, instead of razor thin platforms, had nice tracks that would cradle the ball and effectively allow you to move without much risk of falling off the level. The challenge of the level was deftly moving between the tracks, whereas in the new release it’s now a combination of pulling off super tight jumps while perfectly navigating curved platforms with not even an inch of leeway. Even on my best attempts, I only managed to get three quarters of the way through the level, with incredibly complex challenges still in front of me.

Once I realized the change that was made, I bounced to a World Six, Stage Five video and saw that the exact same change had been made. The tracks were replaced with a razor thin platform, forcing you to pair up tough jumps with negotiating thin curved platforms, which is effectively the hardest challenge any Monkey Ball game has to offer. And typically, such challenge is reserved for hidden bonus worlds or optional paths for bonus bananas. With such levels directly in the critical path, completing the game has become an impossibility for me and I suspect it will be for others as well.

I wish I could see what else is past this world, and even unlock Sonic, who was recently revealed to be in the game, but my inability to complete the aforementioned level bars my progress. Even worse is that if I were to finish the level, beating it and the rest of the World 7 without using a continue just seems laughable, which also prevents me from accessing both Worlds 9 and 10 from ever being played. 

Though it seems apparent that the tracks that were originally in place to make the levels more accessible for the motion controls, pivoting to such a stark challenge to replace something that would've made the game too easy feels like swinging the pendulum too far in the opposite direction.

On this alone, it’s hard to recommend this HD remaster to anybody, but I do know that there’s a contingent of people who have always enjoyed the addendum multiplayer mini-games and in that regard, Banana Blitz HD is perfectly serviceable. While it’s never been a draw for me, there’s been a decent selection made in culling the original 50 mini-games down to the 10 found in the remaster. Furthermore, you can play them all in succession in the new Decathlon mode for a high score, which will be tracked on online leaderboards.

Having played Banana Blitz HD completely ahead of release, I will be curious to see how it’s received by the most hardcore Monkey Ball fans. While it has all of the building blocks of a great Monkey Ball game, the level modifications feel like they will stop most players in their tracks. Given my experience, unless these levels are modified in a patch, I’d recommend you skip this HD remaster and stick to replaying the first two games.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:


All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.


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Comments

Matt Snee Staff Writer

10/30/2019 at 01:05 PM

I've never played one of these. But I know they have a popular following. There are a few other Wii games I'd like to see ported to Switch though. 

Cary Woodham

10/31/2019 at 10:37 PM

Didn't the Wii game have like, 50 mini-games, but none of them were very good?

I miss the Monkey Ball games on the GameCube.  Just a fun main game without gimmicky controls, and a few really solid mini games.  Seriously, some of those mini games were so good, I never felt the need to get another bowling game on the GameCube.

That's interesting that Sonic is a secret character in this one.  I wonder if other SEGA characters are in the game, too, like Tails, Ulala, or Ristar.  Those are my favorite SEGA characters.

KnightDriver

11/15/2019 at 09:09 PM

Yeah, save the hardcore Monkey Ball stuff for the bonus bananas levels. I hate narrow paths in any game where you have to balance something along them - so annoying. 

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