Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania Review: Roll Along, Lil' Monkey

Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania is the best of classic Monkey Ball with some fantastic new touches to keep things interesting, though accessibility takes a back seat in these remakes.

If you enjoy putting small animals and humans in plastic balls and sending them careening off ledges at high speeds, Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania is a dream game. If you’re pretty much anyone else and never imagined doing such a thing, well, you should start imagining because Banana Mania is a heck of a lot of fun.

Banana Mania is everything that’s good about Monkey Ball and, aside from a few minor bumps along the way, proves the classic franchise is just as ripe now after nearly two decades.

Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania Review: Roll Along, Lil' Monkey 

You hear media described as a celebration of this or that franchise often, but there’s no other way to characterize Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania. It repackages hundreds of the best stages from Super Monkey Ball, Super Monkey Ball 2, and Super Monkey Ball Deluxe. If that weren’t enough, Banana Mania adds some of the series’ best mini-games, including Monkey Target and Monkey Fight. 

It’s essentially a “best of” collection, and there’s even a sly nod to those of us who prefer chaos (e.g. me) and miss Banana Blitz’s jump feature. You can unlock that with points earned from playing through story mode and other challenges.

The stages themselves are an excellent reminder of why many remember the franchise's early games with such fondness. Banana Mania starts with a deceptively simple difficulty curve. You’ll spend four or five stages gently rolling forward, collecting bananas, and feeling clever for not falling off the sides of some distressingly narrow pathways.

The second world throws your comfort out the window and runs over it with a bus. One of the first stages is “Gravity,” a downward slope that grows increasingly more narrow until you’re hurtling along a razor's edge at 300 km/h, praying the divine banana, if there is such a thing, keeps you from bouncing past the goal.

From then on, Banana Mania grows increasingly more complex and outrageous, from stages with floors that split into rotating ribbons to fatal slides that rocket you into oblivion if you aren’t careful. In short, disasters will occur.

That's part of the fun, though, and Banana Mania never feels unfair. The physics engine means your failures are often pretty hilarious anyway, such as one stage in world three where a stone literally hammers you through the floor in an automatic “Fallout."

All this is wrapped in a loose story mode, where our heroic monkeys watch a comic book-style cartoon of themselves as they face off against the nefarious Dr. Badboon. “Loose” is key here since there’s very little connection between the story and puzzles, which is a shame since it’s pretty adorable.

Not every puzzle is a winner, of course. Some rely too much on a stale mechanic where you spawn on a switch that speeds up obstacles and need to roll backward to press a slow-down switch.

Some of the backgrounds look a bit too dated as well. Future Monkey Ball games would benefit from taking a Tetris Effect approach and situating its devious puzzles in more dynamic settings.

There’s a slew of challenges for every stage as well, ranging from finishing with a set number of bananas to reaching the hardest goal on stages with multiple objectives.

The best part of all this is not being the monkeys themselves. Banana Mania includes several additional characters, such as Sonic the Hedgehog and Kazuma Kiryu from the Yakuza games, that you can unlock with points earned from story and challenge modes.

Selecting them even revamps the collectibles and sound effects in each stage. It might sound like a small touch, but I really can’t overstate the sheer joy of rolling through volcano puzzles and picking up Staminum drinks as tiny Kiryu in a plastic ball.

It’s a shame, then, that some characters — Morgana from Persona 5, for example — are exclusively paid DLC characters. There’s really no other reason for that aside from making additional profits, though I’d have happily paid extra for the game if that meant it included every available character.

These are all minor complaints, though one more significant issue is Banana Mania’s approach to accessibility — which is to say there is none. Every stage has a “helper mode” that doubles your available time and slows everything down. There’s nothing to help with motion sensitivity, though, and helper mode often makes movement more difficult since it slows you down as well.

Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania Review  The Bottom Line 

Pros

  • Delightfully challenging puzzles
  • So many of them, and party games too!
  • Ridiculously fun to play as the extra characters
  • Extra modes for even greater challenges
  • I can jump if I want to

Cons

  • No accessibility options
  • Bland backgrounds
  • The stale puzzles from the originals are still stale
  • Arbitrarily locked some extra characters behind paywalls

Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania is almost exactly what I want from a collection of the series' classics. The familiar party games and mind-bending puzzles are just as fun as ever, and Banana Mania throws in just enough new elements with characters and challenge modes to keep things fresh.

However, any future Monkey Ball games need to take a broader look at how to make this fun accessible for more people.

[Note: Sega provided the copy of Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania used for this review.]

Our Rating
8
Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania is the best of classic Monkey Ball with some fantastic new touches to keep things interesting, though accessibility takes a back seat in these remakes.
Reviewed On: Nintendo Switch

Contributor

Josh Broadwell started gaming in the early '90s. But it wasn't until 2017 he started writing about them, after finishing two history degrees and deciding a career in academia just wasn't the best way forward. You'll usually find him playing RPGs, strategy games, or platformers, but he's up for almost anything that seems interesting.

Published Sep. 29th 2021

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