Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz
22nd Nov 2006 | 17:28
Being a game all about tilting platforms, Super Monkey Ball was the one game that made instant sense to us when we first saw the tilt-sensing Wii Remote.
We dreamed it, Sega made it; you tilt the Wii Remote and the platform does the same. No Nunchuk is needed - you just hold the Remote in one hand with the face of the Remote facing upwards and your twisting motions are accurately and instantly converted to platform tilting.
Before we go into detail about the control, here's a quick overview of the Banana Blitz package; the main tilting game features ten worlds, each with ten levels and a boss stage.
In case your math skills aren't as good as your gaming, that 100 levels of tilting joy, which isn't as many as previous games in the series but then again, these are ALL new, whereas Super Monkey Ball 2 re-used many of the levels from the original, as did Delux.
Also, unlike Super Monkey Ball 2, Banana Blitz adds many new features to the standard tilting formula. The key to Monkey Ball's success has always been its simplicity, but Banana Blitz manages to enhance and deepen the experience without over-complicating things.
The most prominent addition is of course the ability to jump - just tap A and your monkey will perform a small hop, allowing you to clear small gaps, leap up staircases or avoid obstacles.
This provided Sega with the opportunity to create brand new challenges, like having to pick up enough speed to clear a perilously large gap, but then being faced with a small platform to land and control the ball on, and maybe a few bouncy posts to dodge too. That'll have you visiting the 'retry' screen a fair few times.
Boost arrows, which make your ball charge forward and have previously only appeared in the Monkey Race mini-game, also now appear in the tilt stages to help you up steep hills and various other obstacles. Being able to jump also gives you added opportunities to take shortcuts, leaping off of sections of the level that you're not meant to. We've already seen videos of players pulling off some extraordinary time-saving stunts thanks to the jump ability.
The jump move also lies at the heart of defeating the enormous bosses - another brand-new feature - that you encounter at the end of each world. You'll fight huge robot dinosaurs, giant apes and all manner of strange beasts, each with different weak spots.
Adding even more depth to the single-player game are the new unique attributes of each Monkey Ball character. In previous games there were no noticable differences between the characters. Now, each of the monkeys have their own talents that affect the way you play the game and, in some cases, offer you different routes through levels.
Gon Gon, the bruiser of the gang, can smash through thin wooden walls and break those annoying bouncy poles, but he has the jumping skills of an elephant. Mimi is fast so she's the one to use when you want to get through levels quickly. Baby's ball is particularly small, allowing him to fit through small holes and down narrow paths that none of the other monkeys can reach.
This is great because you'll find that different monkeys will be better at different levels, and while every level is doable with any monkey, you'll find yourself swapping monkeys to explore new ways through the tougher levels.
It also adds to the game's lifespan for the hardcore crowd who, to prove their skills, might want to go through the game with each monkey.
But these hardcore Monkey Ball fans we talk of will run into problems with Banana Blitz if they expect their ninja skills to convert to the motion-sensing control system of the Wii.
The fact is, just like when we all first played the original Monkey Ball with the GameCube's Analogue stick, the handling with this controller feels strange, and there's a definite re-learning process to endure.
The other factor to hihglight is that the nature of this free-hand control system - specifcally it's lack of touch feedback that you get from an analogue stick - means it's fundamentally tougher to judge where the neutral point is, which makes the ball harder to control.
Only slightly harder mind - a few hours in and you'll be throwing the ball around like a ninja - but it will be an issue for those of you that had honed your analogue skills to a point where you could nudge your monkey along the ultra-thin 0.1" path on the old guitar level in the original.
But it's almost as if Sega knew this because - and this is another thing fans won't like - it has lowered the maximum level of tilt you can apply to the stage, almost as if to compensate for the slightly less accurate control system. This means that the ball's movement is slower and less erratic.
While this is great for beginners, who will find the softened movments more accessible, Monkey Ball experts will miss the faster, punchier feel of the original and will find this a little sluggish. It isn't necessarily a bad feature - if this was the first ever Monkey Ball game we'd never mention it - but the fact is fans hate change, and this is a most noticeable one.
On a more positive note, Banana Blitz is easily the best-looking Monkey Ball game ever, with huge levels that are now more like small worlds than bare-bones platforms. Although still simple in style, the graphics boast a special charm with the larger stages stretching far into the distance, with all the trees and other details still visible, and some cool heat haze and focus blur effects to spice things up.
And to add to the fantastic single-player mode, Sega went all-out with creating 50 mini-games. The eight that were packed into the original made for some of the best multiplayer action on the GameCube.
Unfortunately, Sega clearly when for quantity over quality with these games because they're nowhere near as good as in previous games. To start with, half of the games are so basic tediously dull (like the jump-rope game where you simply move the Remote up to make a monkey skip) that you'll only play them once.
Most are either broken (any where you control a space ship and shoot aliens) or simplified to point where they're hardly worth bothering with. Even the legendary Monkey Target now only has ONE level, no items roulette, and no ramp to charge off. Ruined.
You might have some fun with a few of the games with four players, but we would have preferred 10 good games rather than 50 basic ones.
Banana Blitz is not quite the monkey rolling perfection we had hoped for, with slowing controls in the tilt stages and disappointing mini-games, but the single-player alone is still absolute genius and the 100 new levels are awesome.
Monkey Ball remains to be a game that beginners and casual gamers can immediately understand and play, yet only hardcore gamers will master its intricacies and conquer the fiendishly tough later levels.