Super Monkey Ball: Banana Mania Review

Richard Walker

The title ‘Monkey Ball’ was never going to do. It doesn't give its due to the series’ lofty premise: in which little simians are encased in plastic spheres (willingly, we assume), and rolled around a series of levels. It is now and forever more, Super Monkey Ball, and Banana Mania, a collection of Super Monkey Ball, Super Monkey Ball 2, and Super Monkey Ball Deluxe, is the most super of the Super Monkey Ball games, all in one place. And if there's anything better out there than Super Monkeys, I've yet to see it. Created by Yakuza maestro Toshihiro Nagoshi at Amusement Vision (which later became Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio), the primates-in-a-ball series has never been better than it was during those first three games.


Careful now!

Comprising a head-spinning 300-odd levels and twelve endlessly enjoyable Party Games, Super Monkey Ball: Banana Mania is a colossal collection, its various mazes tied together by a story mode that includes daft little interstitial animations. The narrative, such as it is, involves a nefarious plot hatched by the evil Dr. Bad-Boon, or something. It doesn't really matter. What does matter is that those old, early-2000s Super Monkey Ball games still hold up rather well after all these years.

Each of Banana Mania's ten story mode worlds represents a sort of 'grab bag' of levels, each with its own set of 'missions' to complete (earning points in the process), like collecting every banana, completing the level without stopping once, or reaching the goal within a stringent time limit. Certain stages you can roll through in a straight line at speed, while others require a deft touch or a much slower approach, or become a lot easier if you can locate a switch to slow obstacles down or alter their behaviour. Some levels can be remarkably complicated. Playing them again, it’s easy to forget that, beneath the bold colours and jaunty presentation, there's an immensely challenging maze puzzler, some of its more fiendish stages requiring a steady hand and a lot of patience. This compendium marks more than 20 years since the first game rolled its way into the world, and in that time the series has lost little of its monkey shine.

It's certainly lost none of its sometimes vexatious difficulty, either, pitting you against narrow winding pathways, sheer drops, pitfalls, spinning obstacles, portals, difficult inclines, seesaws, and numerous other tricky traps and hazards to traverse with a dextrous thumb. Banana Mania acknowledges this, offering a ‘helper function’, which can be switched on via the pause menu, or is prompted after you've failed a level several times (which can be irritating and, in a sense, a bit patronising). Once activated, the time limit is extended, and you can hold a button to slow things down and follow a guideline indicating the optimum route to the finish. Alternatively, you can part with points, accumulated by completing milestones, to mark a level complete and skip it, with the understanding that your leaderboard time won't be recorded.


Points are earned through practically every facet of the game, whether it's simply beating levels, playing Party Games, or messing about with the monkey customisation. Earning thousands of points to unlock new characters, customisation items, and modes comes easily enough, although some modes, like Golden Banana (collect all of the glowing bananas) or Dark Banana (avoid all of the rotten bananas) are ludicrously tough. There are almost 70 classic levels to unlock using points, too, and ten Reverse Mode stages, which flip the start point and goal - these prove to be more worthwhile unlockable modes than Golden Banana and Dark Banana.

As remastered collections go, you don't get many quite as all-encompassing and comprehensive as Super Monkey Ball: Banana Mania. Granted, some levels might seem too hard, but there's always a solution to be found (though defeating some stages can feel like a case of dumb luck over skill) , and even if you do reach an impasse (or, rather, a chimpasse), you can take a break with a mini-game or a different level, perhaps a quick time attack challenge, or some other diversion. The Party Games alone are almost worth the asking price, Monkey Billiards, Monkey Soccer, Monkey Bowling, Monkey Golf, Monkey Fight, and Monkey Target being the highlights, all with support for solo play or competitive showdowns for up to four players. Who, at a party, wouldn't take you up on a game of Monkey Tennis or Monkey Billiards?


The most beautiful version of the beautiful game.

There's plenty to monkey around with in Banana Mania, serving up all of the rolling, tilting, and bouncing you can handle. While its family-friendly look belies a tough game, Super Monkey Ball: Banana Mania is a marvellous remaster that goes above and beyond, not only cramming three games into one package, but also providing a whole host of worthwhile extras. For that reason alone, Banana Mania, as a definitive compilation of the series' earliest triumphs, is a fairly easy recommendation. If nothing else, it's a great party game to dip into, and a stiff challenge to take on whenever you feel the need to gently guide a diminutive monkey (or indeed, one of the unlockable bonus characters, like Kiryu from Yakuza, Sonic and Tails, or Jet Set Radio's Beat) housed within a gacha ball, around a mind-bending maze. And when isn’t there a time or place for that?

Super Monkey Ball: Banana Mania

Expertly aping past glories, Super Monkey Ball: Banana Mania is a definitive compendium of remastered classics, stuffed to the gills with bonus modes, extra characters, and party games. It is, without question, the most fun you can have rolling a monkey in a ball around a maze - that is an empirical fact. You’d be bananas not to buy it.

Form widget
80%
Audio
60%

Loud, energetic, upbeat music that will either make you smile or drive you to distraction. There’s something sort of infectious about it, possibly not in a good way.

Visuals
80%

Every bit as pleasingly colourful and bold as they were upon their original release in the early 2000s, this is a faithful remaster that brings the three original SMB games bang up to date.

Playability
80%

Still remarkably tricky despite its friendly presentation, Super Monkey Ball: Banana Mania is also a lot of fun, and the perfect primer for anyone discovering the series for the first time.

Delivery
80%

More than 300 levels, 12 Party Games, and a slew of bonus stuff to unlock, including additional characters, and costume items for your monkeys, Banana Mania is about as comprehensive as it gets.

Trophies
60%

Almost entirely focused upon completing everything that the three-game collection has to offer, there are hundreds of mission objectives, levels, and other mind-numbing feats to attempt. A bit on the dull side, this.

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