Super Monkey Ball: Banana Mania is, at its heart, a repackaging of GameCube’s Super Monkey Ball 1 and 2 (adding a sprinkling of additional levels from the PS2/Xbox game Super Monkey Ball Deluxe) with a fresh coat of paint. The gameplay and stage layouts, with a few exceptions, remain the same as they were 20 years ago but are now in sharp and glossy high resolution. And that would be great on its own since the engaging, pick-up-and-play appeal of rolling a cartoon monkey around different creative obstacles is every bit as enjoyable today as it was two decades before.
However, Sega has also seen fit to modernize aspects of the gameplay to expand Super Monkey Ball’s already vast popularity. Gone are the lives and continues of earlier Super Monkey Ball games, eliminating a source of pressure and frustration. Instead, you have unlimited attempts to figure out each level, but you’ll still need to restart from the beginning should your monkey roll out of limits.
You are also given the choice of a Helper Mode system, which doubles your time, gives you an optimal route through the level, and allows a slow-motion function should you want to turn it on. It’s a good kind of “training wheels” for getting a grip on some of the more tough levels that don’t go overboard in holding your hand—through the game nagging you about turning on Helper Mode on each stage, you fall out of more than a few times gets tiresome very quickly.
There’s a catch to utilizing the Helper Mode. In the earlier games, you’d need to finish a series of stages without continuing to access the secret EX levels. Since lives and continues are no longer, Banana Mania now awards you with EX levels for clearing a gauntlet of stages without the aid of Helper Mode, motivating you to complete those problematic stages without further assistance.
Turning on Helper Mode also disqualifies you from the online leaderboard rankings and stops the game from storing your score. It’s a great approach to prevent things from becoming too irritating while encouraging people to tackle a more complex challenge later.
Besides Helper Mode, Super Monkey Ball: Banana Mania also offers players additional ways to overcome some of Super Monkey Ball’s most devious obstacles. An unlocked jump capability provides you a tiny bit more control over your character, but turning it on will also exclude you from online rankings. An arrow pointer tells you which direction you’re tilting the analog stick, letting you know if that run you’re performing isn’t nearly as straightforward as you think it is.
Finally, if there’s a level that is walling you from advancement, regardless of how many assistance functions you activate, you may opt to bypass it and go on—though you’ll lose prizes in the process. Harsh, but sometimes it’s better to go ahead and come back later when you’re not on tilt.
Besides the aesthetic makeover and the quality-of-life improvements, Banana Mania also comes with a sprinkling of unlocked bonuses. Collecting bananas and completing both levels and challenges will yield points you may use to unlock game modes, characters, aesthetic flourishes, and other add-ons. New methods include the reverse-stage method, where you must roll back to the stage’s beginning from the goal point, a “Dark Banana” mode where you have to traverse stages while avoiding rotting fruit, and a “Golden Banana” game where you gather all of the bananas in a series of levels.
The mix of unlockable characters includes additional monkeys and the core simian cast in silly costumes, but also provides a hilarious variety of Sega appearances like Sonic and Tails, Jet Set Radio’s Beat, and even Yakuza’s Kazuma Kiryu. Party minigames have also featured prominently in past Super Monkey Ball titles. All of the favorites from Super Monkey Ball 2 are here from the start, including Monkey Target, Monkey Billiards, Monkey Dogfight, and Monkey Tennis many more.
These party games may be played with up to four players, and each one offers several choices and game styles to enjoy. They’re not simply brief diversions from the main game, either—many of the party games are surprisingly complex and replayable while still retaining the simple, easy-to-learn appeal of the primary mode. They’re all great crowd-pleasers that don’t take long to set up or play and have extensive appeal—though, unfortunately, they can’t be played online.
Between the hundreds of levels, the minigames, and unlocked modes, there’s a lot crammed into Banana Mania. Unfortunately, it does seem like shortcuts were made in several areas. The narrative mode from Super Monkey Ball 2, which was told via in-engine cutscenes in the original games, has been replaced with terrible, cheap-looking animations of still character cut-outs. SMB2’s plot wasn’t exactly a narrative success, but the Banana Mania method takes away all of the goofy charms the story initially had.
The Sega character cameos are also a bit underwhelming; At the same time, it’s cute that the bananas are re-skinned to match the characters (Sonic collects rings, Beat collects spray cans, Kiryu collects Staminan bottles), they don’t affect the gameplay in a meaningful way, nor do they have much in the form of unique animation or voiceover. And after you’ve unlocked all of the additional game types and characters—which you’ll likely accomplish pretty quickly—you’re left with somewhat unexciting choices like outfit colors and ball patterns to spend your banana dollars on.
Banana Mania doesn’t reinvent the wheel (ball?), but it doesn’t need to. Having the option to play classic Super Monkey Ball levels and minigames without having to pull your old consoles and CRT TV out of storage would be enough of a selling factor on its own. Still, the added gameplay changes and delightful additions sweeten the deal quite a bit. If you’re a longtime roller who’s missed AiAi and his jungle buddies—or if you’re a newbie seeking an easy-to-learn action/puzzle game that will keep you occupied for a good while—you’ll want to take Banana Mania for a spin.