It seems cruel, placing monkeys inside balls and then forcing them to traverse what are essentially mazes suspended in mid air. But it sure makes for a fun game.
AiAi and his simian friends have found themselves encased in balls numerous times since their introduction in 2001. It was in 2005 that they reached peak Monkey Ball action, though, with Super Monkey Ball Deluxe; a compendium of sorts, containing all the levels from Super Monkey Ball and Super Monkey Ball 2 while also adding some fresh new ones of its own. The upcoming Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania is essentially a remaster of Super Monkey Ball Deluxe, bringing back all of its many stages and modes while also adding new ones. And of course, the visuals have been enhanced, too.
For those not in the know, Super Monkey Ball is a series all about manoeuvring a monkey-inhabited ball though a number of levels, aiming to reach a goal at the end of each and every one of them. Through rather than moving the monkey, it instead feels like you’re tilting the level itself. Making things more troublesome is the fact that the levels themselves are typically constructed of narrow platforms. And when they do open up, it’s generally because the game wants to throw some obstacles your way, like spinning objects that catapult you off solid ground when hit, or ridges that you need to approach with speed to get over. Throw in a time limit for completing each level and bananas to collect, and you have a format that’s simple yet inexplicably addictive.
We’ve been playing Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania for a little while now, and we have to say, it’s fun taking control of AiAi and his chums again. Though we did also forget just how frustrating it can be at times. Jumping headfirst into story mode, we rolled our ball like there was no tomorrow through the first few stages, our egos growing greater with each perfect finish. But soon enough, we found ourselves occasionally running out of time or falling to our inevitable death before achieving sweet success. Some levels have had us repeating them 10+ times before we could crack them – but that’s the wonder of Super Monkey Ball. It has that “just one more try” factor that keeps you up until the early hours of the morning.
Making your way through the many worlds of story mode, each with their own visual theme and batch of dastardly levels, Super Monkey Ball aficionados will notice that the cutscenes of old have been replaced with high-quality comic-book-style sequences instead. To some, it might seem like a downgrade, but at least it means there’s not a jarring gap in visual quality between cutscenes and gameplay – like that found in the recent Sonic Colors: Ultimate. Besides, the story really isn’t the focus here; you’re buying Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania for the gameplay through and through, surely?
Outside of story mode, players can entertain themselves with the challenge modes from both Super Monkey Ball and Super Monkey Ball 2, offering an assortment of levels depending on the difficulty chosen. Unlocked levels can be mastered in practice mode, too. And when you’ve got friends around and fancy a bit of competitive hilarity, the 12 party games included will go down a treat. There’s everything from Monkey Race, which challenges players to race around a course, to Monkey Target, in which players need to roll their monkey ball down a ramp before gliding towards a target. These party games are a varied bunch that range in quality, but they’re a very welcome addition to the overall package.
It’s the range of unlockable modes in Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania that will be most attractive to series fans, however. Collect enough points, which isn’t that hard to do, and you can unlock new modes such as Dark Banana, which offers 10 new levels that see you avoiding dark bananas while reaching the goal. We’ve tried it, and trust us, it’s not easy. Other new modes include Golden Banana, Reverse, and DX, which restores 46 stages from the original Super Monkey Ball Deluxe for the first time.
There are other unlockables, too. Characters such as Sonic The Hedgehog and Kazuma Kiryu are yours for the taking. The bananas littering each level are even replaced with more character-appropriate items when they’re in use – Kiryu collects energy drinks, for example. A wide range of customisation items can also be unlocked, as well as three render modes, allowing you to change the look of the game. Collect enough points, and you even unlock the ability to jump, which can then be toggled on and off in the options menu.
We’ve tried Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania on both PS5 and PS4 Pro, and perhaps what’s most disappointing is that there’s hardly anything between them. Granted, we didn’t expect much more from the PS5 version, as it is pretty much is just a remaster after all, but it’s a shame the game doesn’t really make use of any DualSense features. What some will appreciate, however, whether they’re playing on PS4 or PS5, is that there’s support for gyro controls. It’s not for us, but if you’d rather move your monkey ball by tilting your controller rather than moving your left analogue stick, you’ll be happy.
Now less than a month away, we’re sure that Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania is going to make a lot of people happy. Super Monkey Ball Deluxe was great all those years ago, and this remaster tidies it up extremely well, all the while adding yet more modes and features. So, whether you’re a Monkey Ball-rolling veteran or someone new to the scene wondering about what all the fuss is about, you might want to empty out a spot in your calendar to entertain yourself with the likes of AiAi and friends. Super Monkey Ball is back, and it’s just as fun as ever.
Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania launches 5th October on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Switch and PC.