Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz Review
It was a good five years ago or so when I bought my GameCube and picked up Super Monkey Ball. I heard that the actual game wasn't nearly as fun as some of the mini-games included (specifically, miniature golf and Monkey Target). While I certainly did enjoy the major puzzle portion of Monkey Ball, it got frustratingly tough pretty early on and it did quickly take a backseat to the four-player action we got into with the mini-games. And so here we are, five years and a few Monkey Ball games later, and Sega has released Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz for the Nintendo Wii.
You might expect Banana Blitz to be wildly different from its predecessors considering the crazy new control scheme in the "Wiimote", but it turns out that the classic gameplay actually works surprisingly well inside some very simplistic controls. The single player game has you tipping around the "world" to roll your monkey-in-a-ball towards the goal. Basically, that's it. Of course, the difficulty comes in sharply winding courses, moving portions of some levels, and tons and tons of open space for you to just fall off of the playing field (causing you to lose a life, of course).
The controls have you simply holding the Wii remote flat in front of you, and tipping it in any direction to tip the world. Tilt it forwards, and the whole world in Monkey Ball tilts forwards and your monkey starts rolling in the direction you tip it in. It's that simple - sure, this game might not desperately need this new control scheme considering how well the previous Monkey Ball games have controlled with an analog stick, but it does work pretty well and many gamers will find many more subtleties and ways to increase precision by holding something in their hands to move than just using their thumb. At any rate, I think plenty of players will find it easier to move around very slowly and subtly adjust their Monkey when necessary.
New this time around is the ability to jump by tapping the A button on the Wiimote. This allows the developers to make even more devious puzzles that require good timing on your jumps - and yes, the "jumping puzzles" in this game are about as sadistic as ever. Despite the bright colors, little-kid-like squealing from the characters and bouncy music, this game is fiendishly tough to get through and I'm sure most players will never reach the final stages.
Another addition would be the boss battles you'll get into at the end of each set of stages that make up a single, themed world. Most of the bosses require you to run or jump into something just at the right time, and in the meantime they'll be trying to push you off of the edge with all kinds of attacks. I understand that this was a good idea on paper, but for the most part, I found these bosses to be really annoying versions of the same bosses I've seen in dozens of games before. Monkey Ball has always had a unique style of gameplay, and I really think that Sega should stick with that entirely for the single player game.
Next up are the multiplayer games. Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz includes fifty mini-games which can be played alone or with up to three other players, and some of these will require the Nunchuck controller attachment while others just need the Wiimote. Note that if you're short on cash and can only afford new Wiimotes (and no Nunchucks), there are still quite a few good mini-games here that don't require the Nunchuck.
Unfortunately, out of the 50 mini-games we get, I found that only about a dozen or so of them were really worth going back to. Some of these games are just really weird and little more than a controller experiment with some rudimentary rules and graphics thrown in, while others are much more complete and fun for any number of players. The actual number of levels in the single player game wasn't as many as I'd hoped for, although I think most players will find that there are hours of challenge ahead of them with the game's final levels.
If you found great fun and challenge in past Super Monkey Ball games, then Banana Blitz will certainly keep you going for a while with its new set of puzzles and tons of stuff to do on the side. The number of levels this time around is a little light, but it's made up for with at least a dozen good mini-games for you and your friends to try. The controls are very simple and work surprisingly well with the game, but if you simply must use the analog stick to win, you're out of luck as the Wiimote tilting is the only way to play this time. Still, I applaud Sega for jumping right into the deep end (at least, from a control perspective) with Nintendo and embracing the new Wiimote without looking back at all.