Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD brings the beloved series to current consoles and PC. We played Sega’s remaster of a former Wii title on a Playstation 4.
I’ll readily admit I’m a bit of a sucker for nostalgia. When Super Monkey Ball first came out, I loved how it reminded me of Marble Madness even though a trackball wasn’t included. I had to wait until the Deluxe version came out for the PS2 myself, but it’s a franchise I fondly remember ever since. When Sega announced they were bringing it back, it definitely brought a smile to my face.
The choice to go with an HD remaster of Banana Blitz struck me as an odd one though, because it’s a title I remembered as being quite reliant on motion controls – as was the case for over half the games on the Wii, of course. I enjoyed the spin-off version that was Banana Splitz on the Vita, but that version too was hardware-reliant on how it made use of the handheld’s specific features.
Banana Blitz HD is coming out for consoles that no longer have motion controls as a big thing – although I still don’t understand why PS4 developers aren’t letting us use them outside of the realm of VR games. This means that a new, more traditional, control scheme has been implemented for the game – now you just have the left thumbstick to move around and a button to jump. The right stick, contrary to what you’d expect, doesn’t let you control the camera.
The core gameplay is similar though – with a little monkey inside a marble you traverse relatively simple mazes to get to the end as fast as possible while collecting as many bananas as you can. There are boss battles as well, requiring you to bump into the enemy’s weak spots to hurt them. In addition, there’s a selection of minigames, but during the transition to the HD version most of these were scrapped because they relied on motion controls. What’s left are sometimes fun diversions, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that these too were designed with another console in mind and that I was getting less content than gamers who bought the original almost thirteen years ago.
The game’s visuals and music were rebuilt from the ground up for this version, and the game looks and sounds great as a result. Expect vibrant colors, Playstation 4 Pro optimizations for the resolution and a quality soundtrack – bringing the Monkey Ball franchise up to the standards of today’s generation at least in the audiovisual sense.
Gameplay-wise I have to say I don’t really mind the switch from motion controls to thumbsticks, as the Wii controls always felt dreadfully imprecise to me. I wouldn’t have minded being able to experiment a little with the Dualshock’s gyro controls, but unfortunately that’s not an option (though I wouldn’t have been happy if they had been the default choice either). In a way, Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD plays a bit like the Super Monkey Ball Deluxe I enjoyed so much on my PS2.
Unfortunately, that also meant that I couldn’t shake the feeling that it would have been a better choice to remake Deluxe in HD, or just make a Super Monkey Ball collection in HD with content that was optimized for traditional gamepad controls. The link to the motion-reliant original that is Banana Blitz isn’t helping this HD remake, but I hope it’s not the last we’ll see of the franchise. There are 100 levels to enjoy here, so if you’ve been craving a helping of Monkey Ball then it’s good to know many of them hold up very well despite the control change. It just never feels like the right Monkey Ball for the right platform…