Review: Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania – Feature-Packed, But Far From Top Banana

“I really love bananas!” – AiAi.

Super Monkey Ball is an incredibly simple idea: poor little monkeys are trapped in air-tight balls. They can probably breathe but it isn’t specified, and all you have to do is roll them to the goal. Yet somehow the original two games and the expanded Deluxe compilation managed to take that premise and mould it into one of the greatest games we’ve ever played. Everything was polished to a shimmering gleam. The stage design, the visual and audio feedback and most importantly how it feels to move in 3D space. Every single one of those points is something the series has severely struggled with since. It’s come close to hitting the beats of greatness but more often than not it’s hitting incredibly low lows.

How is such a simple idea repeatedly executed so poorly? It all comes down to the engine. Everything worked exactly as you’d expect on GameCube, so much so that finishing the game in a linear fashion is more like the tutorial. The meta of Monkey Ball is exploiting the stages — moving the Monkey in ways the developer likely never even intended. Check out a few speed runs if you haven’t before, the things people can do in these games is bananas. This also extends to the party games which may seem like completely different experiences but whether you’re playing Billiards or flying through the sky in Monkey Target, the importance of physics and momentum is still at the forefront of the experience.

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