Review by zinn-x

"Great controls, an awesome single player challenge, half-baked multiplayer. Worth a look!"

GAMEPLAY AND STORY:

Gameplay is simple. Super Monkey Ball subscribes to that old tenet of gaming: "easy to learn, hard to master." It's basically Marble Madness. The player is a monkey inside a ball, and in each level you must roll the ball into the goal. Most of the time, obstacles such as slopes, jumps, and bumpers make this difficult, and it only becomes more difficult as the game progresses. One great thing about the gameplay is that unlike some of the luck-based segments from earlier games, all of the challenges in Banana Blitz can be overcome with the right amount of skill. The game is extremely well balanced and remains challenging without being cheap.

The story is stupid. Once upon a time some monkeys were standing around staring at a bunch of golden bananas when all of a sudden a gigantic space pirate monkey with scissors for hands stole the bananas. D'oh! So obviously the only way to get the bananas back is to run through some obstacle-laden courses and fight some random bosses. Yeah. It would have been nice if the game had a better story, kinda like in Super Monkey Ball 2, but it's not that big of a deal. There are no story sequences between worlds; just one at the beginning, and one once you beat the boss in World 8.

CONTROLS:

The Super Monkey Ball formula really lends itself to the Wii remote. It's simple: tilt the remote and your monkey moves accordingly. This was hard to get used to at first, but there is actually a ton of depth and precision possible once you get the hang of it, and it ends up being much more responsive and satisfying than an analog controller. I can get in this "zone" where I feel like the character movement is an extension of my body and this really adds to the immersion factor.

New in Banana Blitz is the ability to jump. At first, I didn't like this because I thought it would make the game too easy. This ends up not being the case. Sometimes jumping will save your butt when you're about to fall off a ledge and you need to reposition, but a lot of the times it's just a bad idea. Sega designed the levels so that you can't just jump over the obstacles and call it a day. Rather than detracting from the challenge, jumping adds a new dimension to it when many of the levels call for precision timed jumps.

CHALLENGE FACTOR:

The game starts off slow, and at first you'll ask yourself "is that all?" But as the game progresses the challenge really ramps up. One new feature is that every world has a boss at the end. Bosses aren't something I've really missed from prior Monkey Ball Games, but their presence here isn't bad either. The boss characters are kind of cool, and some of them are very fun and memorable. Again, they add a new type of challenge to the game that keeps things feeling fresh.

Also new to the mix is player lives. Once you lose all your lives you get a Game Over and have to use a continue. Since there are unlimited continues and you can start right from where you left off, its reasonable to wonder why they bothered putting lives in at all. Well, the reason for this involves the single greatest new challenge feature of all: unlocking the bonus worlds! If you can pass the first eight worlds (separately) without using a continue, you unlock the ninth world. Then, if you can beat the ninth world without continuing (I'm still working on this one), you unlock the final world. Unlocking these worlds will alleviate your initial feeling that the game is too short. And playing through all of them without getting a game over is a seriously difficult task that will force you to master the game. This adds to the replay value greatly, since you'll want to get good at all of the levels in practice mode!

One last new element that adds new depth to the challenges is the monkeys themselves. Back from the previous games are AiAi, MeeMee, Baby, and Gongon. Two monkeys, YanYan and Doctor are new to the scene. At first I thought it was stupid to have so many playable characters, but it ends up making sense when you realize that each of the monkeys have strengths and weaknesses that make them more or less ideal for certain types of challenges. All of the monkeys handle differently and some of the later levels will be pretty much impossible unless you play as the right monkey.

Sega has really done a good job maintaining the core elements that make a Monkey Ball game challenging while adding new elements to the mix and keeping things fresh.

GRAPHICS & SOUND

The graphics in Banana Blitz are new and improved. There's a completely new art direction which really works well and makes the game seem a little more "next generation." Bright, fluorescent colors abound. The character designs are tweaked, levels contain decorative elements such as trees and fences, and effects such as heat shimmer and depth of field bring the a little extra polish to the locales. The game looks sharp with progressive scan enabled. Overall, this is a much better looking Monkey Ball game.

Sound is a mixed bag. On the one hand, you still have the annoying cutesy monkeys with their chirping and yipping sounds. There's no way to get them to shut up without muting the TV. The announcer remains unchanged, and in later levels the sounds of his "Ready? Go!" and "Fall out!" announcements become grating and obnoxious. On the other hand, the music is great. The beats are cheerful, upbeat and easy to listen to for extended periods of time. The music adds a soothing element to the gameplay. Oftentimes the music is the only thing that keeps me from going mad with frustration and throwing my controller through the TV after the 50th time I've tried to beat world 9-6 unsuccessfully. I want the OST to this game!

MULTIPLAYER

This is where I wish Sega would have spent more "quality" time. Yes, the game has 50 mini-games. This is a pathetic marketing gimmick since most of them are forgettable. About 35 of the games are playable, and less than 20 of those you'll actually want to play. It would have been nicer if there were more polished mini-games and less worthless mini-games. Although there are still some really good ones here: Monkey Bowling, Monkey Wars (sadly it's a better first person shooter than Red Steel), Bugs Balance, Monkey Race, Snowboarding, and Monkey Target to name a few. Even though there are some good ones, the fact that the vast majority of the mini-games are less than half-baked makes the multiplayer aspect of Banana Blitz seem stale.

Even worse is no challenge mode! Challenge mode was one of my favorite parts of Super Monkey Ball 1 and 2, and getting rid of it is a horrible mistake! Boo!

CONCLUSION

Super Monkey Ball Banana Blitz is a great game for anyone interested in a new Wii experience. Great controls, graphics and music make the game exciting and enjoyable to play. The challenge of unlocking and perfecting all the levels will keep you entertained for a long time. However, the game isn't perfect: annoying voice effects, a lame story, and half-baked multiplayer will sometimes make you wonder what they were smoking over at Sega. But overall the game is great. Undoubtedly worth a rent, and probably worth owning.

THE GOOD:

* Intuitive, responsive, innovative controls
* A challenging single player campaign
* Highly skill based; No cheap shots like "Launchers" in Super Monkey Ball 2
* Great graphics with 480p support
* Memorable music that will save your sanity in trying times

THE BAD:

* Too many lame mini-games
* No two player challenge mode! :angry:
* Annoying voices
* The story is more than forgettable


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 02/16/07


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