Super Monkey Ball has always been one of Sega’s weirdest franchises – especially to a grizzled, world ignoring westerner like me. I mean, be honest; if someone told you there was a game about tiny monkeys in gacha balls rolling over obstacles and around mazes, you’d think they were having a brief hiatus from chasing the dragon. Here’s the catch though; that series is not only fantastic, but the latest entry, Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania, is up there with the best of them. Following our preview of the game, here is our full review.
Hello, Hello, Hello, Hello, BANANA!
Banana Mania is split into a bunch of modes, with more modes within those modes. Look, it’s a bit of a mess, but there is a lot of content here. Main Mode contains the story, and as the core concept I so eloquently described earlier would imply, it’s a little bit bananas (awful pun intended). The story plays out like a Saturday morning cartoon with a bunch of monkeys watching the insanity chug along. It’s pure nonsense, but it looks good, it’s charming as all hell, and it gives you ample reason to jump in a ball and fall into the abyss.
And fall you will – you can hold me to that. Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania is nut-crackingly difficult (monkeys eat nuts, right?). Don’t let the razzle-dazzle, whimsy, and opening couple stages fool you. Banana Mania is old-school arcade action, and it will kick you in the teeth and demand you retry over, and over again. Each world has its stage themes and assortment of gimmicks, but there is way too much variety to ever feel comfortable within a stage, let alone a full world.
One moment you could be zooming down a half-pipe, making crazy turns and nabbing some potassium, the next you could be hurtling through portals and catapulting hundreds of feet in the air. It’s bedlam – but in a good way. Failure is a certainty but the game is lightning fast no matter the outcome. If you win, well the stage was probably under 10 seconds long. If you lose, no biggie, the game instantly restarts the stage for you. There is maybe 1 second of downtime. Just enough time to slot a quid into the docket in an old arcade cab.
As difficult as Monkey Ball can be, it’s rarely unfair. This is entirely down to how tuned the controls are. Dual analog is a finicky control method. Dead zones, input lag, and other little niggles make it a pain to use if developers don’t put the effort in. Banana Mania is tighter than my pre-pandemic jeans. The tiniest of motion is instantly recognized giving you absolute control over every aspect of your monkey friend. You’ll need it as well – let’s just say rolling a balled monkey across a tightrope ain’t easy – but in this game, it’s fair.
What made Banana Mania – all Monkey Ball games – tick for me, is the juxtaposed desires of the player, and the expectations of the game. Because the game is hard, going slow makes sense. Failing is a knife to the soul, so taking your time makes sense. Monkey Ball doesn’t want you to ponderously progress through its stages, however, so there is a timer. Going slow is fine, but being overly cautious will land you a bitter defeat.
The timer is more than just a patient guillotine, though. It’s there to push players to go faster, break records and experiment with the game’s level-tilting gameplay. Mastering the stage, your movement, and the laws of physics themselves can lead to some insane moments of gameplay that, to a newbie, may look impossible or game-breaking, but turns out it’s absolutely repeatable and intended. Challenge, depth, stress, and fun all come together in perfect harmony.
Unless you don’t want to mess around with that stuff of course. Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania is the most accessible entry the series has ever had and tailors to players of all skill levels and ambitions. If you don’t want to go 400mph, then you don’t have to. Dial back the difficulty, enjoy a more relaxed experience with a significantly more forgiving timer, and just puzzle it out.
A lot of the content in Banana Mania is pulled from older titles and given a fresh coat of paint. It’s basically a giant compilation of the best of Super Monkey Ball 1 and 2, with some extras added for good measure. These extra modes are fiendishly addictive, difficult, and spruce up the formula nicely. Modes like Golden and Dark Banana add whole new win conditions to a series of new maps, and, well, this is where the veterans come to show off. Rounding out the package are challenges, online leaderboards, and time trials.
While Banana Mania’s main modes may lack true multiplayer, it does have one of the largest selections of mini-games the series has ever seen. Bowling, soccer, tennis, billiards – you name it, it’s probably here. Each mini-game has a bunch of variants and tweakable options further expanding the already substantial list. What’s more, most of these games are pretty fun. They can be played solo with some AI companions or in local multiplayer where things can get heated. It’s a shame you can’t play this mode online – at all, but it’s still a fun way to permanently damage family bonds.
Your reward for doing practically anything in Banana Mania is monkey coins. These can be spent at the shop and allow you to unlock outfits, modes, and new characters. Being a fan of classic sega, seeing chonky Sonic and Tails, as well as Beat from Jet Set Radio, warmed my heart. These characters also reskin bananas to resemble pickups from their respective games. You can even roll around as a Dreamcast. You get plenty of coins just by playing, and unlocks are surprisingly cheap, meaning there’s always something new to buy and mess around with.
Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania is the best the series has ever looked – especially when playing on PS5. It won’t blow your socks off when it comes to fidelity, but it does an excellent job of bringing color and charm to the venerable series. I wasn’t a massive fan of some of the post-processing effects, such as this weird vaseline blur on some of the skyboxes, but it looks sharp everywhere else and runs like butter. The music is also top-notch and suitably upbeat and cheery. Voice acting gets a bit repetitive mind you, with your monkey death screech being a tad grating once you’ve heard it about ten thousand times.
Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania is a roaring success and a fitting anniversary title for a mostly forgotten series. When it comes to fun, challenge, and charm, Banana Mania delivers in spades. It’s a crying shame about a lack of online, even if the leaderboards were a neat inclusion. I don’t think I have smiled, raged, paddied, and cheered this much in any other game this year. It’s a good time to monkey around, and I am excited to see what the future holds for the series.
SUPER MONKEY BALL BANANA MANIA IS HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Many thanks go to SEGA for a PlayStation 5 review code for this title.
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Forged in the rainy wilds of northern England, I carved a path of mediocrity through generations and genres. My play style is often described as: “optimistically awful”.