RGG Studio Talks Designing Super Monkey Ball In 2024

Platform:
Switch

Publisher:
Sega

Developer:
Ryu Ga Gotoku Studios

Release:
June 25, 2024

Rating:
Everyone

Last month, I had a chance to play Super Monkey Ball Banana Rumble, the first all-new entry in the Super Monkey Ball (SMB) franchise in more than a decade. While I went into the demo skeptical that the series, which experienced its best years in the early-to-mid 2000s, could feel like a modern experience in 2024, I emerged from the demo impressed by the gameplay improvements, single-player level design, and the game’s approach to multiplayer (you can read my full preview here). 

Shortly after the preview, I had a chance to dig deeper into Super Monkey Ball Banana Rumble with several of the developers behind Ryu Ga Gotoku’s franchise that isn’t about the seedy underbelly of the Japanese organized crime to learn how the team worked to modernize the franchise while still remaining true to its roots.

Recently, we’ve received some remakes and remasters, but no new entry for many years. Why did the franchise take such a long break?

Nobuhiro Suzuki, Producer: We believe this is the result of a combination of factors. Whether it was due to development resources being refocused towards other large titles, the creators leaving the company, sales numbers, and more, the SMB development line disappeared and there was a period of time when production came to a halt. However, after releasing two remakes, Super Monkey Ball Banana Blitz HD in 2019 and Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania in 2021, and after receiving positive feedback from our fans, we decided to release a completely new title, Super Monkey Ball Banana Rumble. We hope fans are excited to play this first brand new entry in over a decade!

With that unique position in mind, what were the primary goals of Super Monkey Ball Banana Rumble?

NS: Following the release of those two remakes, Banana Blitz HD and Banana Mania, our goal is to firmly establish the revival of the SMB franchise with this completely new title. To that end, we set out to make a new entry that firmly inherits or captures the best qualities of past SMB titles while also feeling like an all-new game with 16-player online battles, refined game and character designs, and the addition of new characters and storylines. 

With such a big gap between the last all-new, non-remake/remaster release, were there any updates to the design and gameplay best practices that needed to be applied to this latest entry to ensure it feels modern in 2024?

Daisuke Takahata, Director: Based on the data we pulled, such as the number of people who cleared each world of Banana Mania and comments from various playtests, we updated the game with a level of challenge that new players (as well as longtime fans) will enjoy. Compared to the past titles, the difficulty level of the early worlds is now milder (in previous games, things were too difficult right from the beginning). We also made it so that the first time you boot the game, you will be taken to a tutorial that will help you learn how to play the game and use the controls. The same goes for the camera, where we made some small adjustments to the default settings to help make things feel smoother. Players will also be able to fine-tune these settings in the Options menu, which we think longtime fans will appreciate.

The physics in Super Monkey Ball Banana Rumble feel good. How did the team go about overhauling the physics, and how did you know you got them just right?

Jack Ko, Programmer: Banana Rumble’s physics actually builds upon those in Banana Mania, which in turn was based heavily on the original GameCube version’s physics. We made special adjustments to the movement in the previous game to make it viable as a remake, but thanks in part to comments from fans, we were made aware of a few elements that might contribute to some of that unintuitive behavior caused by the physics in Banana Mania. With Banana Rumble being a new entry to the series and having its own new stages, it means that this time around, we were able to focus on making the movement feel simpler and more intuitive.

Additionally, the physics system is extensively parameterized, meaning that designers can make adjustments to different parts of it on the fly. With internal testing happening at least once a week during development, tweaks were made incrementally and whenever needed. We knew we had it right when anyone could just pick it up and be able to immediately roll out like a pro.

Why was the Spin Dash such an important inclusion in this entry? What do you think it most adds to the experience?

NS: In creating this all-new game, we wanted to add the right technique that would give users a wider range of play and challenge. Also, in order to implement the 16-player battles, we needed something that would really emphasize the user’s technique so they can overcome the competition. As a result, the Spin Dash was implemented. While the Spin Dash is simple to perform, we believe it adds a lot to the game; for beginners, it’s an exhilarating element that allows them to sprint and bounce off obstacles, and for advanced players, it can serve as a way to find shortcuts and quickly reach the goal. We are very pleased how players have been responding to it.

This question may be better asked to the localization team, but with the Super Monkey Ball franchise so reliant on puns and wordplay related to bananas, did the team ever consider calling it “Peel Out” instead of “Spin Dash?”

NS: To be honest, we didn’t think about it at all. [Laughs] We wanted to make it easier for users to understand just by looking at the name, so we made it straight out “Spin Dash.”

When creating a level in Adventure mode, what factors must be considered to create an effective stage?

Yukio Oda, Designer: As for “what elements,” our basic idea is to combine “various elements” in a complex and effective manner. For example, if we break down a stage into smaller pieces, you can see that the “path” includes various elements such as “thickness,” “curve,” “slope,” “moving path,” and so on. Depending on how these parts are combined, the stage can be easy or difficult, interesting or boring. The Monkey Ball team has a lot of expertise in these combinations, all accumulated over many years with the series, and we always aim to create an interesting stage based on that know-how. But the first step in creating a single stage starts with the inspiration of the stage designer.

How does the team balance fun with challenge when designing stages?

YO: The stages created by our stage designers are regularly playtested by dozens of people inside and outside the team. Not only do we pick up a variety of opinions, but we also analyze data such as the percentage of clear rates and times, and we are constantly making adjustments to make the stages even better. We are also strongly aware that the Monkey Ball series has been characterized by its contrast between having very easy stages and very challenging stages. Sometimes, even if a playtester finds that a stage is deemed “too difficult,” there are cases where we end up leaving it the way it is. However, we are always pleasantly surprised when, after launch, we see users uploading videos showing how they were able to complete extremely difficult stages with ease. 

The stages I played were very enjoyable and sometimes over-the-top, but they were just in the first two worlds. How wild should players expect the challenges in Adventure mode to become?

DT: We are glad you enjoyed the early stages of the game! As we announced, there are 200 all-new stages to be found in Banana Rumble’s Adventure Mode, all spread across different worlds. The final world, in particular, has a variety of exciting gimmicks waiting for players, which will prove challenging even for fans who started with the previous titles. Stay tuned for a “very wild” challenge!

Can you talk to me about the process of designing the Battle modes? They bring such enjoyable twists on the Super Monkey Ball formula, and I’ve always found the minigames/side modes to be as enjoyable as the main Adventure mode.

YO: Thank you very much! When it comes to the game design of Battle Mode, we paid close attention to how “control” and “sense of speed” were expressed during gameplay, as they are key characteristics of this series. We also took care to ensure that the skills players learned and improved upon by playing through Adventure Mode can be utilized in Battle Mode as well. One of the main features of this game is its emphasis on “ease of understanding” – basically, we made sure not to make the rules overly complicated when adding any twists and turns, so players are able to enjoy themselves.

Where would you like to see the Super Monkey Ball franchise evolve from here? Do you think there is a place for multiple releases in a shorter time window than we’ve seen in recent eras?

NS: First of all, as a basic premise, we will continue to carry on the fun and originality the SMB series is known for, and make sure SMB fans can fully enjoy their time with it. On top of that, we would like to evolve the series to a level that offers something that incorporates a variety of exciting new ways to play that is altogether unique to Sega. With the support of our players, we believe we will be able to continue to release new games on a regular basis. We would really appreciate everyone’s support for Super Monkey Ball Banana Rumble and the Super Monkey Ball series!

Super Monkey Ball Banana Rumble arrives on Switch on June 25. For more on the upcoming series revival, head here to read our full, hands-on impressions.

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