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Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz Box Art

Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz

The combination of monkeys and huge, rolling balls is probably one of the greatest ideas of all time. Since the inception of simian spheres five years ago during the GameCube launch, millions have enjoyed the simple, Marble Madness-inspired gameplay and addictive multiplayer mini-games. After a great sequel, the series hit a bit of a rough patch with Super Monkey Ball Adventure. With the launch of Wii, the series looks to regain its stride with a proper Super Monkey Ball installment, fittingly subtitled Banana Blitz.


Like so many Wii launch titles, the visuals aren't a significant step up from those on GameCube. However, the game does sport a new, semi-cel-shaded look that works well with the series. Levels and mini-games are still colorful and attractive, bosses remain huge and imposing in a cute sort of way, and it all runs without a framerate hiccup. Good-looking design and functionality seems to be more important to a series like this than graphical fidelity, and Banana Blitz delivers on the front of the former.


Aside from the requisite monkey squeaks and yelps, not much was expected on the audio side of Banana Blitz; and yet, the music is surprisingly competent, if not dangerously so. At first, it seems like suitable background noise, but it's not long before it creeps into the psyche and plants itself firmly in the frontal lobe. Players should not be surprised to find themselves humming along with the music, not only while the game is on, but also at work, during sleep and when game-hating girlfriends start to nag. This is not a recommendation towards quality music for enthusiasts, but rather a fair warning.


For those unfamiliar with the series, the world of Monkey Ball is made of a series of mazes. The job of the player is to guide an orbed primate from point A to point B, while grabbing as many bananas along the way. Instead of directly controlling the character, control is granted over the level on which they roll. Tilting the level is as easy as shifting the Wii remote from side to side. It's not hard to let the feeling of power overwhelm, but those with god-complexes need only remember that they are manipulating a monkey in a ball.

With previous entries in the franchise, control was relegated to the analog stick, but tilting the Wii remote feels just as natural, if not more so; but it won't come easy for veterans of the series. The sensitivity can be hard to adapt to, if only for a few levels. It seems the best way is to hold the remote is in between the index finger and the thumb, not unlike the way a pencil is held. This also puts the index finger in position to hit the A button, which commands the new jump feature.

The new control scheme combined with the ability to leap over obstacles adds just enough to enhance the single-player experience over its predecessors, but not by much. Those who sunk hours into Super Monkey Ball and its sequel won't find too much new here besides a steeper challenge. Starting in the latter half of the 100 levels (20 of which have to be unlocked), the difficulty level spikes from manageable to diabolical rather quickly. This might enchant the hardcore, but it will leave cold those new to the series. That's okay though, because they'll most likely be busy with the other half of the game.


A staggering fifty multiplayer mini-games are included with Banana Blitz, and they contain a great deal of variety--both in gameplay and quality. Some are returning favorites, like Monkey Target and Monkey Bowling. Unfortunately, these don't hold up well with Wii controls shoehorned onto them. The main exception in this case would be Monkey Wars, whose silky smooth first-person shooter controls put Red Steel to shame.

The remainder of the mini-games seem to be split up into several different categories. Racing games like Monkey Snowboarding and Monkey Race control decently with the controller held sideways as a steering wheel (a la Excite Truck). Pointer-based mini-games like Number Ball and Asteroid Crash work exceedingly well with flawless precision. Monkey Darts -- in which the player holds the Wii remote like a real dart and throws it with a flick of the wrist -- in particular is a real gem that wouldn't be out of place in a meatier set of games like those in Wii Sports. Also exceptional are the kinetic games that involve both the nunchuk and the remote. It will be hard not to look over at the opponent without laughing while they pump their arms to run in Hurdle Race and Red Light, Green Light. There's even a mini-game similar to the bird-flying side quest in Twilight Princess, but it uses the remote and Nunchuk combo in such a great way that it elevates beyond what Link could do.

Unfortunately, a few games spoil the fun. It seems as though every game that relies on depth and area to play is nearly broken. For instance, Whack-a-Mole is a fairly explanatory mini-game wherein the player controls a hammer by moving it forward, back, left and right in real space. Yet such a simple concept is marred by unresponsive control; the hammer will often wiggle awkwardly, and the game seems to have a hard time figuring out if the hammer is supposed to be going backward or swinging down on its prey. It's too bad, because the execution of such titles really ruin the potentially fun concepts.


Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz is pretty much what might be expected of a launch title. It uses the system's capabilities, but doesn't stray too far from established norms. Fans of the franchise may be bummed that it doesn't feature as many levels as previous installments, but the sheer challenge alone should afford them some extra time. On the mini-game side, Banana Blitz is mostly a success, but the busted segments are a real downer. Especially in the light of Rayman: Raving Rabbids and WarioWare: Smooth Moves, this seems inexcusable. Regardless, Banana Blitz is a safe bet. It's just a shame it didn't risk any gambles with the gameplay.

final score 8/10

Staff Avatar Tristan Cooper
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"Get out the umbrellas..."

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