Review: Monkeys! With balls! Not those kind of balls!
I mentioned in one of my latest reviews that Sega had two franchises that I couldn't wait to see hit the Nintendo Wii, the light-gun genre was one. The most anticipated of all was the inevitable Wii entry for the Super Monkey Ball franchise. Sega was even kind enough to offer the title at launch!b
For those who haven't heard anything about the title there are two ways to describe it. Old-school video gamers should remember a gem of an Arcade/NES game called Marble Madness. For those that do, simply picture the marble being a monkey, that for some reason that is never explained, is in a ball. Said balled-monkey then finds his way to the end of mazes based on the Wii's tilt sensors. Another description is the old "board game" in which you have two knobs that control the tilt of a board. The object in that game (anyone know the actual name?) is to get the marble to the end of the path while dodging all of the holes in the board. That idea was actually taken and applied to a recent car commercial as well. Add a dash of humor, insane characters and story, mini-games and a splash of Japanese cuteness and you have Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz.
Gameplay & Story
The core gameplay of the Super Monkey Ball franchise remains completely intact. Simply get from point A to point B in the allotted time by using your selected monkey. GonGon is the hardiest to control but can squish baddies and destroy bumpers while at the other end of the spectrum is Baby, who gets pushed around by everything but has pinpoint steering. In the middle are the returning AiAi and MeeMee with new simians, YanYan and Doctor. All of the characters possess unique attributes, from their speed and acceleration right down to the size of their balls...Done giggling?
Banana Blitz brings the single-player difficulty to new heights. Even the most hardcore of Super Monkey Ball fans will find the newest entry difficult after the 6th world. But the designers at Amusement Vision didn't leave new players hanging. Seeing as this was a launch title to a system that hoped to broaden the gaming market, it would have been unwise to make entry into the franchise too difficult. To cull the problem the controls were mapped to the Wii Remote, a much more intuitive approach than the joystick, but also one that can make the series MORE challenging than it already is. Despite the change in controls, the AM team did a good job at progressing the title's difficulty. Even the most novice of players should be able to pass the first five worlds without much frustration.
To accompany, and perhaps prevent gamers from spiking their Wii Remotes in rage, Sega topped of the title with loads of humor and a ridiculous story plot. In this zany story, a new Pirate boss has taken the Golden Banana (a twist on the cliche Princess stealing perhaps) for his personal gain. Naturally, it is up to our hero AiAi and his misfits band of heroes to save the day. The main game spans eight worlds, each ending in a Boss Battle stage instead of a final windy course.
The party games have been a staple to Super Monkey Ball since the series inception on GameCube back in 2001. Many a college night were spent SCREAMING over Monkey Fight or how I totally got screwed when trying to cut a corning in Monkey Race. Sega went and ruined these fantastic diversion by removing all of the classic SMB and SMB2 party games, instead filling the void with fifty Wii Remote/Nunchuck friendly mini-games. That is not to say that all fifty games are bad, but it would be a lie to say that most of them are solid games, or even have good controls. Why Sega felt that players wouldn't enjoy the old school party games on the Wii I do not know, but every single one of them is better than the fifty included in Banana Blitz.
Amusement Vision has always kept the replay value high on Super Monkey Ball titles. So far, all of the games have had two things to keep players coming back to their favorite primate-based title, party games and hidden tracks. In Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz, you can pretty much through out the party games as a reason to come back. As detailed above, Sega buried the previous mini-games in favor of waggle friendly games, almost all of which aren't worth your time. Thankfully, the hidden tracks are still available.
Hardcore Monkey Ballers, the kind of people who find ridiculous shortcuts and post them on YouTube, spend exuberant amounts of time perfecting the best routes, jumps, timing and perfect landings for all of the course in the game. This is because to unlock ALL of the title's levels players must complete each world without using a continue. I didn't want to review Banana Blitz until I unlocked all the gameplay content. So you may want to know that Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz was a Wii launch title (November 19th, 2006) that I purchased the day of launch. Yes, unlocking all the levels is simply THAT HARD.