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OXCGN’s Super Monkey Ball: Banana Splitz Review

OXCGN’s Super Monkey Ball: Banana Splitz Review

Monkeying With The Formula

by Chris Fox

© 2012 Chris Fox

I love my Vita and I love excuses to play it even more, although sadly these are few and far between.

I’m also a huge fan of the first two Monkey Ball games that were found on Nintendo’s Gamecube ten years ago, but I haven’t been impressed with SEGA‘s offerings since then.

For those who don’t know, Monkey Ball is a simple yet addictive and challenging premise. To succeed, simply guide your balled monkey to collect bananas and reach the timed goal by tilting the world around him.

The original Monkey Ball became one of the Gamecube’s strongest launch titles with its fresh and unique blend of challenging single player levels and outstandingly fun multiplayer mini games.

But forget the past, it’s now 2012. Has Monkey Ball regained its former greatness?

Chimpanzee That

The classic maze navigating, banana collecting, no-nonsense Monkey Ball fun is back and I couldn’t be happier about that.

Titles like Super Monkey Ball Adventure and Banana Blitz did not grab me at all; they were either too focused on telling a pointless story or had terrible control schemes. The very instant the first stage of this new game booted up, everything once again felt as it should be.

The beginner single player campaign is so reminiscent of the originals; some courses have the same layout, the bonus rounds are lifted directly from it and there’s even a warp in exactly the same place.

This is SEGA letting us know that it’s ok; Monkey Ball is back to how it should be.

Only the original four monkeys are selectable for single player too, forgoing the ridiculous additional primates that we’ve picked up over the years. From start to finish, the campaign is the purest Monkey Ball experience available right now.

No Primate Of Mine

The campaign has no story, thankfully.

Simply get that cocooned ape from point A to point B in the time limit whilst picking up as many ‘nanas en route as possible. This time around, banana progress is saved and carried over if the player dies, making it easier.

Bananas will only get reset if a continue is used. At first this seems too easy, but you’ll be happy about this when the difficulty ramps up. And boy, does it ramp up.

Yes, Banana Splitz has a steady and fair difficulty curve but it also features some of the hardest stages in Monkey Ball history. Simian sphere veterans looking for a challenge need look no further than this.

Banana Splitz gives you the choice of either using tilt controls or the left analogue stick, and thank Hanuman they did. Pay attention developers: this is what you should all be doing. Please offer us the choice of using the tried and true methods of control as well as new and trendy motion controls whenever possible.

Monkey Ball‘s tilt controls work fine and there are even trophies for completing the campaigns using it, but most player’s will find the twitch controls of the analogue stick infinitely preferable.

With the left stick controls selected, this game really feels like Monkey Ball again. Using the Wii remote or touch to control our little monkeys was never meant to be and really ruined Monkey Ball titles in the past. The status quo is restored here and pros can once again accurately nail those high scores without a wall of poor and unintuitive control schemes standing in the way.

See No Evil, Hear No Evil

Way back in 2002, a friend of mine described Monkey Ball‘s graphics as ‘perfect’. While that game may not have had the greatest visuals from that generation or even from the Gamecube itself, I know exactly what he meant.

It was a simplistic beauty that perfectly served the game as well as sufficiently dazzling the player.

The same thought crossed my mind when I first saw what Banana Splitz had to offer. The stages shimmer and shine with the sheen of the Vita’s power and looks more crisp and gorgeous than ever before.

The music is great, too and pairs nicely with each environment. There’s some really memorable tunes in here as well as some ambient dance music tracks that were so abundant in games during the early naughties.

All in all, the presentation here is gorgeous and it’s helped me fall in love with Monkey Ball all over again. In fact, I was fully ready to knock up this game and then marry it… and then I played party mode.

So Close…

Yes, if the campaign is representative of the golden age of Monkey Ball, then Party Mode mirrors the bad times. This really could not be more a let-down after the home run that is single player.

I was looking forward to throwing open my window and screaming, “MONKEY BALL‘S BACK!” to all who would listen. Party Mode put a stop to that very quickly.

Monkey Target (also known as one of the greatest mini games of all time) is back but is sadly a shadow of its former self.

The standard premise is the same; launch your monkey off a ramp, glide them through the air to collect bananas and land on a high scoring target zone. The premise is the only thing that remains, however, as none of the fun, charm or addictiveness of Ye Olde Monkey Target are anywhere in sight.

The End Of Monkey Target?

From the moment my monkey was automatically shot down the ramp without any input from me, I knew something had gone horribly awry.

When in flight, it is no longer possible to dive or climb with any real clarity. In fact, you can’t seem to pull up at all. Flying feels stiff and the sense of soaring through the air is really muted. The wind is far too powerful and turning into it delivers the same effect of having your monkey immediately shot out of the air.

Before, it really felt like a monkey was attached to those wings. Now it feels like a sack of bricks.

It’s hard to be accurate with the landings too, frustratingly so. You simply cannot get enough air to complete Monkey Target with any reasonable score and making the target alone in ‘Giant Punch’ mode is challenge enough.

Gone are the power ups, such as no wind. This is a great detriment to the new Monkey Target as the wind is crippling. Smart Ball is a great new ‘Lucky Hit’ twist on the formula, it’s just a shame the whole formula is now not fun anymore.

This Party’s Over

Monkey Bowling aside, which really nails pick-up-and-play-touchscreen-fun, the rest of the mini games are either pointless, confusing or just not very enjoyable.

Love maze, in which two monkeys need to stay connected whilst finding their way out of a top down labyrinth is fine, but it’s not particularly challenging.

Pixie Hunt is baffling, Number Ball is a nice idea with poor execution and Battle Billiards sounds more fun on paper than it is in practice. Rounding off the mini game collection, Bingo is a fairly fruitless excercise and Rodeo barely works.

The mini games on offer here really remind me of Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz on the Wii. Many are unfocused and don’t use the different types of touch or motion control in any intuitive way. What a great shame that instead we weren’t given three or four party games that were really focused, simple and enjoyable experiences.

Anything else?

I left ‘create a stage’ mode ’till last and looked forward to making some crazy monkey mazes of my own.

Things didn’t quite pan out as I’d hoped, however, as Banana Splitz has the strangest course creator I’ve ever seen.

To create a track, a picture needs to be taken with either of the Vita’s cameras. Ok, I thought, perhaps this would be used as the skin for the surface of my course, or better yet, the background. But this was not what happened.

It seems as if the game then tries to ‘represent’ the picture taken as a Monkey Ball course, much in the same way a drama student would ‘represent’ their inner angst with interpretative dance. Like the student’s dance, no one wants to see this kind of course creator, and another missed opportunity slips from this game’s grasp.

Ape Out Of Ten?

What a terrible shame. Half of Monkey Ball: Banana Splitz is the addictive, challenging and incredibly fun single player experience that we all remember and the other half is the nightmarishly bad collection of mini games we’d all rather forget.

This could’ve been the contemporary classic Monkey Ball that we were all waiting for as well as being a strong title in the Vita’s library.

This game comes closest the glory of old than any Monkey Ball has in years, but sadly, we’re not quite there yet.

7/10

© 2012 Chris Fox
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About dkpatriarch (633 Articles)
Co-owner and EIC of oxcgn.com

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