Oh, 2002, I remember you and my Gamecube so well.
I started out with the three launch titles. One, of course, was the iconic Luigi’s Mansion – one of my all-time favourite games. Then it was Star Wars: Rogue Leader, arguably one of the best tie-ins the franchise has ever had. And then one I took a gamble on hoping for the best, Super Monkey Ball.
As it turned out, Super Monkey Ball was the game I kept going back to, weeks, months, even years later. These days, you’re lucky if there’s one standout game at the launch of a console, but the Gamecube had three!
Super Monkey Ball became a staple at my house. Mates constantly wanted to come around and play bowling, golf, target, even fight. We’d be up to the early hours merrily chatting while being casually competitive. Frankly, it’s one of the best multiplayer games I’ve ever played and it’s one I could still happily lose myself in all these years later. So imagine my excitement when the most recent Banana Blitz got announced for Switch.
Look, the Wii instalment was never my favourite. The motion controls made sense but they were never a perfect fit, so I understand why they’ve stripped them out here. Add in the more cartoony graphical changes, the frustrating and kind of cringe-worthy boss battles, and the jump button which I’m still not completely convinced by. There was something more refreshing about its omission in the early games.
But it was still Super Monkey Ball and Banana Blitz on Wii tried something different, proudly boasting 50 mini-games. Not all of them were great, of course. In fact, quite a lot of them sucked, but this HD upgrade has reduced it to just ten. While that seems like a huge chunk of content lost, what’s good this time around is that it’s all playable online with competitive leaderboards and time decathalon modes.
It’s still local, of course, and the mini-games are never quite the same unless you’re sharing a sofa with someone. That, in essence, makes it a perfect fit for Switch with the ability to play anywhere and connect up a few JoyCons.
But for the me of today, playing Super Monkey Ball is more about beating the campaign mazes than it is spending hours with friends trying for high scores. Times change, you grow older, and in some cases you grow apart. I don’t have those house parties now, or hours in the day to beat my own scores. That’s ok. That’s why this Switch port works so wonderfully for me because the emphasis is on its single player content. Super Monkey Ball has never been so slick and polished, the levels are the right mix of balanced and fiendish, the controls work surprisingly well considering they’ve adapted them from a motion-sensitive game.
In seconds of booting up, I’m back head over heels over this zany, wonderful little game. I’m charmed and enamoured, desperate to reach each goal by any means necessary, taking the ‘one more go’ mantra to whole new limits.
Plus it has Sonic the Hedgehog as an unlockable character for goodness sakes, what more do you want?
It is just such an absolute pleasure having a true Monkey Ball game back on modern consoles. I didn’t realise how much I’d missed it but now I can’t put it down. The way you skirt the edges, desperately trying not to fall out. The speed at which you accelerate through some mazes. The obsession with collecting as many bananas as possible. It all counts and contributes.
Banana Blitz got a bit of an unfair rep on the Wii. Some might argue it’s the game that killed the franchise dead, but playing it again on Switch, the creativity actually seems to shine through just a little bit more now. Gone are the annoyances associated with its control and in its place, a spotlight on the creativity that actually went into the content.
No, the minigames aren’t the best. Snowboard is horrible and Seesaw just isn’t enjoyable without Motion Control. I long for the days of the simple but effective Monkey Bowling and Golf, though it’s nice that Target is still around, mostly intact.
What does work is that classic Super Monkey Ball gameplay, running through mazes, collecting bananas, and finding those shortcuts. For that, alone, Super Monkey Ball Banana Blitz HD is a must-grab as it still does it better than anything else out there.
But let’s not leave it so long next time and hope that this is opening the door to something new. While Gamecube will always feel like home for the franchise, I’m willing to bet a Switch Super Monkey Ball designed from the ground up could take things to the next level. Especially as far as multiplayer is concerned.
Super Monkey Ball Banana Blitz HD is now available on PS4, XO and Switch
Reviewed on Switch, supplied by SEGA