How has it been 20 years since the first Super Monkey Ball? I still remember my late night sessions of Monkey Bowling and Target like they were yesterday.
The game started life as a wildcard Gamecube launch title but has since gone on to be one of the most beloved party games ever released. And while this isn’t exactly a brand new Monkey Ball game – essentially it’s a remaster of the first three games – Banana Mania is easily the best the franchise has been in years.
There is an absolute ton of content in here – as well as a few surprises that enhance the game in even more exciting ways. Including the closest we’re ever going to get to a current gen Sonic Spinball when you reskin as the blue hedgehog, collecting rings while spinning around 3D mazes.
Essentially, players will either be revisiting stages from the original Monkey Ball games or experiencing them for the first time with enhanced visuals at 60 FPS. Just on the stages alone, you’ve got hours of gameplay in store, though the difficulty curve ramps up pretty sharpish from World 3.
From simply rolling down ramps, to avoiding pot holes in the ground, getting enough trajectory to leap onto platforms and even taking neat little shortcuts, you roll around as a Monkey in a ball, collecting bananas, aiming for the exit and moving onto the next stage within the allotted time limit. They may look cute but these games do not hold back!
Fortunately, there’s a really nice helper function which not only gives you a directional path to follow, it doubles your stage timer and you can even slow down time so you can bypass some speedy sections a lot easier. It’s a great win for accessibility and means you’ll probably be able to get through much more of the content. And if a stage is still giving you problems, you can mark it as cleared and move on. Nice!
Also new is a Photo Mode, which, frankly, if it’s not found in a modern day game is more of a shock than not these days, but it’s a nice way to get a total view of a maze while having your character pull some funny faces and potentially get some nice grabs of the beautifully designed scenery in the background.
Yet, this isn’t what Monkey Ball is best known for. The party games are what people often come for and there’s a wide variety in here, including classics like Monkey Racing which is essentially Mario Kart in balls and the aforementioned Bowling.
Plus say it quietly in some corners of the internet but the Monkey Golf mini game is actually more fun to play than this years’ Mario Golf. Shhh.
Some mini games aren’t as great, of course. While the core premise of Monkey Boat seems like it could pioneer its own gaming franchise, the controls feel clunky and it relies on chance a bit too much.
Monkey Shot is fine but also a bit dull and slow-paced, with a real emphasis on button-mashing. Others just don’t work quite as well but can be a great bit of fun for parties.
And then there’s Monkey Target which was easily in the top tier of mini games back in the day but just doesn’t capture the same magic as that Gamecube original. The amount of fails you’ll have vs successful landings keeps clocking up, with its flight physics never feeling quite right.
The AI is also a bit all over the place. In some games, they’re terrible opposition, regularly getting left way behind or lost in the dust. And in others they are completely dominant and show no mercy.
The important thing to get across here is that there is something for everyone at all skill levels and the multiplayer joy Banana Mania offers is better than pretty anything else that’s come out this year. At a time when families and friends are starting to hang out again after a long time apart, Banana Mania is just the perfect dose of entertainment to come at the right time.
To bolster the package even further is the point shop where you can spend banana tokens on new characters and clothes, along with photo filters and special modes and features. Genuinely, you could be playing this game for weeks, even months down the line.
Points are earned for completing missions in different modes, so for example clearing a stage in story, gathering x amount of bananas, or in party games it can be as simple as winning a game, using a powerup or losing in a certain way. All of it adds up over time, letting you buy whatever takes your fancy from the Points shop. It’s a great way to get you to explore all the game has to offer and unlock the game your way.
You can even compare yourself in Online Rankings, taking on Ranking Challenges to see just how good you are and post about it on a global stage, something unthinkable back in the early days of the franchise.
This really is the best game to celebrate 20 years of Super Monkey Ball. It has a bit of everything, and all that it’s in here is executed very well and has a wealth of replayability.
A lot of love, care, and attention has gone into the release and it all feels very slick, polished and well presented. It may not be an all-new release for the series, but this is definitely a great way to really bring the franchise back into the spotlight.
Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania is easily the best party game of the year and is also one of the most generous packages in terms of offerings and pricing I’ve had the pleasure of putting in my PS5. If you’re looking for something wild, a bit different, and a game that will give you hours of multiplayer fun, there’s no easier recommendation to make.
+ Joyful party experience through and through
+ Fluid, slick and well presented
+ An absolute ton of content across the different modes and objectives
+ I feel like I’m playing a modern day Sonic Spinball!
– Some party games do fall a bit flat and Monkey Target is a disappointment
– Physics can sometimes be a bit wild and over the top
Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania releases October 5th on PC, PlayStation, Xbox and Switch
Played on PS5
Code kindly provided by SEGA