Review by RockyRan
A marvelous single player and a sub-par multiplayer combine to make a decently good package
Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz launched the same day as the Wii itself motion-sensed its way into the shelves. During the Christmas season of '06, it competed with heavy hitter The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess and the hotly anticipated title Red Steel, stealing a lot of spotlight away from this fine game. Of course, Banana Blitz was nowhere near "heavy hitter" status, but it remains to be one of the more enjoyable (if only slightly flawed) Wii games currently forming part of the game library.
Banana Blitz and the entire Monkey Ball series can be summed up with the typical cliche: easy to learn but difficult to master. You begin with a monkey in what appears to be a glass or plastic clear ball and you must guide him or her through maze-like levels by titling the entire level instead of the character him or herself. New to this Wii iteration is the addition of a "jumping ability", the use of tilt for movement instead of the traditional joystick, and the ability to guide the entire Monkey Ball posse in the main game instead of just Aiai, the protagonist, each of these characters having different jumping height, speed, acceleration, and ball size.
What makes Monkey Ball so enjoyable (although for a few, so frustrating) is its sheer difficulty. The learning curve stays reasonably manageable throughout, but the later levels require dozens of retries from the player before they can be completed, and the included unlockable worlds and hidden bananas will prove a challenge to even the most dedicated and skilled gamers. This, of course, is nothing new to the standard Monkey Ball fan, since he/she has most definitely adapted to the high level of difficulty that is typical of the Monkey Ball series. Players will have to carefully balance their monkey in a ball across tight spaces, through huge steps, slides with boost arrows, across chasms big and small, and through countless obstacles designed to knock your poor little monkey off the maze. It's hard. It's nonsensical. Most importantly, it's fun.
One thing to note about the levels, however, is that the type of level design varies very differently from the previous major iteration, Super Monkey Ball 2. Monkey Ball 2 relied on a very large number of "unique" obstacles for its difficulty. That is, the obstacles appeared only once in the entire game. This made stages like "Arthropod", "Fighters", and "URL" possible and made for some very nice variety. Banana Blitz, however, reuses a vast majority of its obstacles across stages, its level design depending on different combinations of these put together. The last levels even rely a lot on the "extremely narrow path" obstacle, which proves to be a great challenge despite it being a little overused by the end of the game. Still, the level design is very well made in Banana Blitz and despite the fact that there aren't as many "unique" obstacles scattered throughout the levels, they still provide just as much fun as the previous major iteration.
The second half of the game, and one that's unfortunately emphasized in this iteration, is the mini-game collection. Indeed, the back of the box barely mentions the single player mode, and even the main menu has the mini-game mode as the "first and foremost" option. This is quite confusing, since the mini-game collection is obviously the more inferior mode of the two. Instead of the usual dozen or so mini-games in the previous Monkey Ball games, Banana Blitz is packed with 50 of them. One thing, however, is that the developers have unfortunately chosen quantity over quality, and it most certainly shows with a vast majority of the mini-games. Some mini-games, like the ones involving frisbee throws, are nothing short of frustrating and poorly designed. Some, like the number counting and jump rope games, are so incredibly short and simple that they barely provide any entertainment. And then some, like the Home Run derby, are faithfully (and more successfully) executed in Wii Sports, a game that comes with the Wii by default in many world regions.
The result is a very small number of mini-game that are both slightly deep and well designed. Games like Monkey Wars, the Hovercraft Battle, and the asteroid shooting game. These games are clearly entertaining and incredibly fun when playing with four people, but they're still a little underdeveloped, particularly in the options department. No game has a way to change the time, and other games like the Hovercraft Battle don't have a way to turn off certain annoying items (the clock-shaped items that freeze everyone else comes to mind). Details like these prove to be extremely annoying when playing these games for prolonged periods of time, and the player will definitely wish that the game developers would have simply cut the number of mini-games if it meant that the remaining games were to be of a much higher quality. In this case, less is more, but the game developers apparently though it otherwise.
The graphics in Banana Blitz are actually quite pleasing to the eye, rather surprisingly. When other Wii games look no better than early-GameCube quality, Banana Blitz looks a lot crisper and cleaner than the previous Monkey Ball games. Banana Blitz opts for a much more cartoony look, coating the monkeys in a really shiny filter that makes them look like they're made of plastic. This, along with the background animations, provide a fresh look to the series that previously did not exist. The textures and backgrounds are a lot crisper, and the game in general looks a lot more fluid. The game developers even included a few visual effects like depth-of-field blur and some nice particle effects that pushes the detail level slightly higher. It's most definitely not the prettiest Wii game to date, but it is one that sure pleases the eyes several times.
The music has also taken a turn for the better. Despite the fact that the melodies in Monkey Ball 2 were quite catchy and memorable, they still retained a very similar feel between each track. That is, they were all of the upbeat techno-y genre that sometimes even resembled Japanese pop. Banana Blitz, however, opts for a much more varied soundtrack, with well-crafted tracks like the pirate-themed world, the volcano-and-lava-themed world, and the space-themed locale. Every song is just as catchy as the songs from Monkey Ball 2, but this time they have an extra flare of variety that kicks up the quality of the soundtrack by a considerable amount.
In general, Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz remains to be a game true to the series, with an insane amount of insanely difficult puzzles, varied and addicting gameplay and equally as addicting mini-games. A few setbacks (both minor and major) like the lack of unique variety in single-player obstacles and a huge amount of worthless mini-games slightly mar the experience, but the overall package will make players walk away slightly pleased at the very least. For those ready for a challenging and fun game, be ready to pick this up and be ready to keep fallin' off those levels. For those with a mild stomach for these types of games, stay away, since most of the time it'll seem like the tilting controls are to blame, when they are truly not.
Rating: 3.5 - Good
Product Release: Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz (US, 11/14/06)
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