Game Review

Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania redeems Sega's most underrated series

Inverse Score: 8/10

The Super Monkey Ball series is the most underrated Sega franchise of all time.

While the franchise started with two great games, it never hit the popularity of Sonic the Hedgehog or Yakuza because of a wave of gimmicky spin-offs and sequels. Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania is a pleasing remaster of Super Monkey Ball 1, 2, and Deluxe, the series’s best titles.

This Sega franchise utilizes the uniquely charming concept of tilting stages to roll monkey-filled balls into bananas and goals. Part racing game, part puzzle game, part party game, and part platformer, the Super Monkey Ball series is unlike any other.

Banana Mania reminds us of what the series was like in its prime, good and bad, and hopefully signals the start of a new era for the franchise. For those looking for a game with short but addictive levels or a new party game to try with friends, Banana Mania is an amazing option, particularly on Switch.

Going Bananas

Banana Mania contains over 300 stages from the first three console games in the franchise. For the stage-titling gameplay the series is known for, head right to “Main Game” on the main menu. From there, try the Story Mode that bundles together dozens of stages from the series’ history while retelling the story of Super Monkey Ball 2.

Story Mode features a gradual difficulty curve, slowly getting the player used to the physics and controls before throwing some truly wild stage gimmicks (like platforms that fold and unfold like inchworms) at them. To win, you simply tilt the level so the player character rolls into a goal and not off the stage within a time limit. Think of it like a wooden tilt board game come to life.

Super Monkey Ball is a deceivingly simple game.Sega

The early stages of Story Mode ease the player into this concept, and the addictive gameplay loop will grip players within the first world. Banana Mania also includes some of the series’ most frustrating stages, which can border on unfairness. Thankfully, the game does feature an assist mode that gives novice players the option to slow the game down.

Story Mode is just scratching the surface of what Banana Mania has to offer. Challenge Modes based on each Monkey Ball game feature some of the series’ most demanding stages. Players can also spend points earned while playing to purchase Special Modes, like one where players must collect all bananas in a stage before they go through a goal.

While Banana Mania is a solid single-player experience, it’s also very fun with friends thanks to its Party Games. Banana Mania includes all of the mini-games from Super Monkey Ball Deluxe. Some of these are takes on sports like golf, bowling, and baseball, while others completely change up the formula and transform Super Monkey Ball into a racing game or brawler.

The best and most iconic mode by far is “Monkey Target.”

Players roll down a slope to build momentum before being launched into the sky. From there, they must glide and land on the area of a platform that gives them the most points. Competing for the highest score with friends is captivating and cements Banana Mania as an entertaining party game.

Perfectly Ripe

Banana Mania feels totally familiar, but visual upgrades modernize it enough for the present day. The Main Game stages got the most attention, but the textures in the Party Game levels didn’t get as much love.

Menus are sleek and modes are plentiful, though an option to play through Super Monkey Ball 1 and 2’s original campaigns as they were would’ve been a welcome addition.

The physics of this remake feel good, though the camera can be restrictive at times. This sometimes makes it hard to see some stages. This shouldn’t be much of a problem for familiar with the games, but it could be disorienting to newer players.

Banana Mania adds new unlockables like the aforementioned Special Modes, photo mode filters, and costumes.

While the classic Monkey Ball cast is all present and accounted for, Banana Mania also features many guest characters. Players can purchase costumes based on other video game characters like Sonic and Tails, Kazuma Kiryu from Yakuza (which is made by the same developer), Morgana from Persona 5, and more.

Banana Mania is starting to feel like Sega’s Smash Bros. We definitely wouldn’t mind seeing more guest characters added in the future.

The Dragon of Dojima can’t handle one of Banana Mania’s toughest stages.Sega

The Super Monkey Ball series is utterly charming but long-ignored. As such, it’s refreshing to see the franchise get a remaster treatment with more care than even Super Mario 3D All-Stars.

Banana Mania is worth checking out for those who’ve always wanted to try Monkey Ball or have fond memories playing the series as a kid.

Difficulty spikes and a wonky camera will occasionally have players throwing their controllers across the room. Still, this otherwise compelling remastered package demonstrates why Sega needs to make Super Monkey Ball one of its premier franchises.

8/10

Inverse reviewed Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania on Nintendo Switch. It also will be released for PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X on October 5, 2021.

INVERSE VIDEO GAME REVIEW ETHOS: When it comes to video games, Inverse values a few qualities that other sites may not. For instance, we care about hours over money. Many new AAA games have similar costs, which is why we value the experience of playing more than price comparisons. We don’t value grinding and fetch quests as much as games that make the most out of every level. We also care about the in-game narrative more than most. If the world of a video game is rich enough to foster sociological theories about its government and character backstories, it’s a game we won’t be able to stop thinking about, no matter its price or popularity. We won’t punch down. We won’t evaluate an indie game in the same way we will evaluate a AAA game that’s produced by a team of thousands. We review games based on what’s available in our consoles at the time. And finally, we have very little tolerance for junk science. (Magic is always OK.)

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