Release Date: October 29th, 2019 (Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, Xbox One)
Developer: Amusement Vision
ESRB: Everyone 10+ (Mild Cartoon Violence, Suggestive Themes)
It’s a story as old as time: A group of monkeys are enjoying a peaceful afternoon with their friends when some bad guy comes and takes their golden bananas. They set out to retrieve their stolen treasure and face whatever obstacles stand in their way. Of course, I am talking about Super Donkey….sorry, Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD. We recently got our hands on the Nintendo Switch version of this high-definition remake of the 2006 Wii launch title. How does this remake hold up after thirteen years? Let’s roll into the review to find out!
As stated earlier, Banana Blitz HD is the story of a group of monkeys who set out to take back their stolen bananas from the baddies who robbed them. Fans of the series will recognize AiAi, MeeMee, and all their friends as they roll around in clear balls through rigorous and challenging mazes in order to clear each level. For players unfamiliar with the series, the game is played by tilting the controller’s left joystick that tilts the stages that the player character is set on. Tilting the stage causes the ball to roll in the specified direction and players also have the option to make the ball do a short jump to help traverse the many twists and turns of each area. There are regular bananas to collect in each level and gathering twenty of them results in an extra life for the player. While falling off of a stage results in a lost life, losing all of their lives will allow a player to “continue” and start at the very same stage that they died on, so there is not much of a penalty for dying too much. However, players are awarded medals both for completing an entire level (which is eight stages followed by a boss fight) and for completing the entire level without “continuing.” The first medal is easy enough, assuming one has the patience to retry levels that are more unforgiving, but the second one is a real challenge. Even worse is the fact that the game has eight full levels for players to complete, but accessing the hidden ninth and tenth levels require every one of the challenge medals that do not allow continues. Needless to say, casual players are going to have a difficult time seeing the last twenty percent of the story campaign. Despite the difficulty spike that occurs around Level 5, there is plenty of fun to be had for all types of players, especially in the game’s other modes.
Not only does Banana Blitz HD offer a challenging single-player mode, but also the game has several multiplayer modes to give respite from the rigors of the story campaign. (Seriously, wear the wrist straps if you play with joy-cons. You will thank me later.) Freshly added to this remake are the Time Attack and Decathlon modes that allow players to challenge themselves to complete a series of ten mini-games for the fastest time and highest score, respectively. What’s more is there are online leaderboards for both scenarios so players can see how they rank against gamers from around the world. While I feel like this is an outstanding addition to a thirteen-year-old game, I feel obliged to point out that there are only ten mini-games in this version, as opposed to fifty in the original. Sega decided to use only the ten most-popular mini-games from the Wii version, which I believe was a mistake. While each of them can be played in a local multiplayer mode with friends, some of the mini-games felt frustrating and lackluster, especially compared to some of the ones that got cut from the original. Despite that setback, Sega did do something amazing for this remake of Banana Blitz – they included our favorite blue hedgehog as an unlockable character! That’s right; Sonic finally spins into a Super Monkey Ball game! Of all the changes to this game, adding such a beloved video game icon was the most welcome one, for sure.
Another upgrade to Banana Blitz HD is naturally, the graphics. While older games in the series looked great on their respective systems, Sega was tasked with bringing a Wii game to the high-definition world of modern consoles. With this remake, they definitely succeeded. The graphics are astoundingly crisp and vibrant in both handheld and docked configurations. I do, however, feel that they missed an opportunity to utilize the Switch’s gyroscopic controls in handheld mode, which would be appropriate in a game centered around rolling a ball. Regardless, the visual effects look amazing and come coupled with a catchy and upbeat soundtrack to round out all of the gameplay modes.
Does Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD hold up after all this time? The gameplay is still just as fun and challenging as it was back in 2006 and the audio and visual effects are on par with the best of the whimsical games found on the Nintendo Switch. While there are some welcome additions to the game in the form of online leaderboards and a brand new unlockable character, the lack of mini-game selection is a major disappointment. Overall, I think this is a fantastic remake that is only held back by its lack of content from the original source. So stop monkeying around and go play this game! Justin Singh, Game Reviewer
Review copy provided by Sega.