Looking back on the Gamecube, it’s kind of mind-boggling to think about how strong of a launch library it had. On the day that the Cube was released (November 18th 2001), players were treated to Luigi’s Mansion, Batman Vengeance, Crazy Taxi, Star Wars: Rogue Squadron II; and, less than a month later, would see the likes of Super Smash Bros: Melee, and Pikmin.
Among that list of strong launch titles was Super Monkey Ball, which has a special place in my heart, because it was actually one of the first games I played on the Gamecube. It’s hard to believe it’s been 20 years since I first experienced the joys of monkeys rolling around in little pachinko balls, but Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania is still just as good as I remember!
There’s really not much to say about Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania other than it is pure, distilled, uncomplicated FUN. It’s a remaster of the first three console entries—Super Monkey Ball, Super Monkey Ball 2, and Super Monkey Ball Deluxe (which itself was a compilation release of Super Monkey Ball 1 & 2)—and features not only over 300 stages to roll through, but a collection of challenge modes, global time rankings, and party modes to enjoy with friends.
If you’re unfamiliar with Super Monkey Ball, it’s pretty simple to pick up. Players are placed on a stage and must roll their monkey to the goal, trying to beat the clock and collect as many bananas as they can. Stages range from tricky obstacle courses to more complex puzzle-based courses, and each one will require multiple playthroughs for the best completion.
“There’s really not much to say about Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania other than it is pure, distilled, uncomplicated FUN.”
It takes a little getting used to at first, since instinctively, you’d think you control the monkey ball itself; however, players actually tilt the stage in order to move the ball, so working out the physics of the game, as well as how that plays in with sloping courses, or bumps and ramps takes a bit of time.
For the most part, control feels pretty decent, but there are a few moments where the physics of the ball and rolling along the stage don’t feel particularly accurate—I’m not sure if this can be attributed to the game being built in the Unity engine. Luckily, Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania offers players an “Assist Mode,” that gives them double time on the clock, an arrow guide to show them how to reach the end, and a slo-mo button to help them make tricky turns or jumps.
“If you really want to enjoy Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania, I’d say stick to the main game or the challenge modes.”
And while some stages can be a bit frustrating to figure out, the game never really slows down—throwing you right back into the course upon a “Fall Out,” and bolstering your determination to finally clear the stage, much like Hotline Miami, or Super Meat Boy. It’s just the right amount of action and puzzler to make it intense without being brainless.
If players need a break from the main game, the aforementioned “Party Games,” do have a lot of fun mini-games, but some are better than others. Some of the more basic games like, Monkey Race, Monkey Billiards, or Monkey Target can be pretty fun, little distractions, there are quite a few that aren’t very fun either playing solo or with friends—Monkey Fight, and Monkey Dogfight are two particular standouts, and for a game designed all around ball physics, Monkey Golf and Monkey Tennis are pretty pathetic. If you really want to enjoy Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania, I’d say stick to the main game or the challenge modes.
In the visual department, Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania looks great, both on and off the dock. In fairness, given the simplicity of the game, there isn’t really a lot to make the game look bad, but the background to every world is bright and colourful, and brings each stage to life. Sadly, while the Story Mode from Super Monkey Ball 2/Deluxe is present, Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania has done away with the ridiculous cutscenes from the originals, in favour of semi-animated comic panels that essentially explain each cutscene.
Where Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania really stands out, though, is in its music. Each track is an absolute BOP, from the main theme, “Hello Banana,” and its ridiculous lyrics—I swear there’s a line in it about, “being full from the breakfast I just had,”—to the smooth jazz theme of the Monkey Billiards. Every track has you bouncing in your seat and has, what I can only describe as, a classic SEGA vibe—think the Phantasy Star Online soundtrack. It’s a phenomenal soundtrack, and just makes the whole game so much more enjoyable to play.
Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania is just a fantastic game. It’s simple, arcade fun that anyone can enjoy; and perfectly suited to a system like the Switch where you can easily get in a couple of stages while on a bus ride or lunch break. If you missed these back in 2001, then you should definitely check them out now. It’s just classic fun that is hard to come by these days.