Chimp off the old block.
When I think about the Nintendo GameCube, I don’t think about Super Mario Sunshine. Nor do I think about The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, or even some of the excellent Star Wars games that graced the platform. No, despite the rock solid library for the handle-laden console, the first thing I think about, is Super Monkey Ball. You see, when I was younger, I didn’t have a GameCube. I had a PS2, because all of my mates had a PS2. An Xbox might as well have been from Mars, but I did, roughly, know what a GameCube was, thanks to my addiction to buying Nintendo magazines for new Pokemon information.
Then, some years later, I would learn that my cousin had a GameCube, and a ton of games. I would occasionally play it at his house, before one day I was offered to keep a loan of it for a week or so. I was ecstatic. I could finally play Pokemon on my TV thanks to the GameCube’s functionality with the GameBoy. I could play this incredible Pokemon XD: Gale of Darkness game I’d heard so much about. But he didn’t have those. He had this weird game about a wee monkey in a ball. It was called Super Monkey Ball. You probably guessed that bit.
Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania, or SMBBM as the kids are calling it, is a remaster of the original three Super Monkey Ball games, and all of their accompanying party games, into one package to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the chimp flinging series. A relic of the early 2000s when SEGA found themselves in a silly goofy mood after tanking their console business, SMB is a weird, charming game that’s deviously difficult, and very addicting.
Essentially, you use the analogue stick to move the stage in order to shuffle your monkey down the track and into the goal. The levels start as straight lines, but soon you’ll be navigating the spherical simian down veritable screwball scramble-tier levels, screaming in frustration as you fly off into the abyss, only to be mocked by huge letters, reassuring you that you have fallen out of the stage. At that point the only thing really at danger of falling out is my PS5 from my 4th story window. You’re judged based on your time, as well as how many bananas you managed to pick up along the way, collecting all of them in a stage, and finishing on time is extremely challenging, but the kind of thing that’s fun to go after again and again.
It’s actually here where the first real disappointment raises its head, the time between falling off a stage and starting it again is far too long. It would have been great for the developers to add a button that would instantly warp me to the start gate again without any kind of delay, I just want to run the same level, or try the same shortcut again without the pausing for breath. It’s a short delay, but there really shouldn’t be one at all, you’d imagine the loading power of the PS5 could have seen away with that.
Graphically the collection looks nice, but not amazing. There’s a huge logo of AiAi’s face that you see throughout the game, and it looks weirdly distorted and low-res, like it was never meant to be seen at 4K. Also, while the text work has been cleaned up, there’s still a lot of rough textures, presumably reused from the originals, that could have been improved.
There’s a huge amount of content in the game, with around 10 minigames included as well as the campaigns from the first three games. The minigames are hit and miss, but I will admit to spending many nights when I was younger playing Monkey Glide, an utterly addicting distraction that sees you rolling the chimp down a hill and launching it towards some targets. It was very nostalgic to be able to play that again, so I’m glad it was included.
Speaking of nostalgia, as is pretty common with modern day SEGA, they’ve just decided to randomly point at any of their properties and shove them in. Sonic, Tails, Beat and even Kiryu from Yakuza can now be trapped in a tiny plastic ball and yeeted down the courses. Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio, the team behind Lost Judgement and Yakuza: Like a Dragon handled the remaster, so it’s only fair that they included the all kicking, all singing Dragon of Dojima in the game. As a nice touch, Sonic chases after gold rings that make the correct noise when picked up, however, sadly, Kiryu chases after bottles of an unidentified origin, and not tiny plushies of Goro Majima.
Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania does exactly what it needs to do, but not much else. It’s a great remaster of three games from one of SEGA’s most interesting eras, and it’s handled with care. There’s a lot of content, and a solid amount of new novelties to keep SEGA heads amused. I wish they’d went slightly further with improving the graphics, but considering the speed at which you’re passing things by, as long as the framerate holds up, which it does, it’s not too much of a problem.
In a few weeks time you’ll be able to trap Persona 5’s Morgana in a ball and launch it into the sea, adding at least 5 points to the review score.