My first meeting with monkeys trapped in balls was on the GameCube. The premise was simple and effective tilt the world to get your monkey around the map and reach the goal. The single player was just that, which got a bit boring and with over 100 levels, you’d do well to complete it. The mini-games added to it immensely, and I had good fun playing with my mates. There have been many iterations since then, so imagine my delight to discover that Banana Blitz was to be released as a lauch title for the Wii. Having finally acquired a Wii, I began playing the latest Monkey Ball. Was my delight carried over to the next generation, or did it fail to impress?
There are now seven characters available for you to choose who you’ll play as in the mini-games and the single player. I’m told that the characters each have their own characteristics, some can jump higher than others and other such things. I say I’m told because I haven’t actually experienced any difference among the roster of characters. So if there are differences, they are very, very subtle ones.
Launching into the single player, you’ll discover there are eight worlds to battle your way through. The story behind this game, portrayed with no speech whatsoever when you begin playing, is that a bunch of golden bananas have been stolen, and it’s the job of whichever monkey you choose to go and get them all back. The first world is a simple tutorial, getting you used to the new control system. The basic task you have to complete is reaching the goal. How you get there is a pretty linear path on most levels, but there are many obstacles and turns you’ll have to navigate to get there. After the fourth level there is always a Bonus Round, where you have a set time limit to collect as many bananas as possible. A new touch to the game is a boss battle at the end of each world where you have to try and whack them on their weak point, varying in difficulty as you progress through the game.
Playing the game with the Wii Remote is a very frustrating experience in the beginning. It’s quite sensitive, and you’ll often find yourself losing control and falling out of the world, where an announcer promptly shouts “Fall Out!”, just to add to the irritation. It won’t take too long for you to get the hang of, but it’s unlikely you’ll ever become a master with it. Trying to be intricate on certain levels proves fruitless, as time and time again you’ll barely move your hand and find the world throws you too strong in one direction. It’s annoying, but in time it will become less frequent. All you do is move the Remote left and right to move left and right, move it down to go faster, and pull it back up to slow down. Simple in theory, damn hard in practice.
The new bosses at the end of each world are a nice but unnecessary addition. More often than not, you’ll die once per boss; not because of difficulty, but because of lack of control or not knowing when to strike. Once you figure out the best technique per boss, they become easy and you’ll breeze through them. The levels building up to the boss provide far more of a challenge than the bosses ever could. I would be happier for them to just remove the bosses and allow me to play through hundreds of different levels with varying difficulty as before. Despite it being slightly tiresome, it’s a whole lot better than the bosses.
One problem that has always existed in Monkey Ball games is camera issues. Banana Blitz is no exception, and is in fact more annoying than previous games. If you’re climbing a set of stairs, for example, trying to roll back to build up momentum to go forward and jump is incredibly difficult. I found myself falling off the stairs multiple times, and trying to correct yourself results in another “Fall Out!” call. It’s actually harder to correct this time as well. With an analogue controller, you could turn 360 degrees with minimum of fuss. Here, getting your monkey to rotate even 180 degrees is incredibly challenging, and will frustrate you to no end. The worst thing is you’ll eventually get to the top of the stairs, and move your hands in a cheering gesture forgetting that you’re playing a Wii, throwing your monkey to the left or right meaning “Fall Out!” and having to do the stairs again. That only happened once, I swear.
The single player is fun, despite the problems the camera plays on you and the pointless bosses. Levels 1-8 are great. If you can skip the bosses or get someone else to do them for you, you’ll find the single player is nowhere near as long as past iterations, but arguably better designed and more of a challenge. Depending on your skill, the single player will probably take around 5 hours of solid play to complete. Assuming you “Fall Out!” quite a lot, and for whatever reason find the bosses a challenge, you could probably add a couple of hours on.
But where Monkey Ball games have never failed to disappoint is the multiplayer part. Providing 50 mini-games in Banana Blitz, allowing up to four players to play, there should be at least some games that capture the crowd and force your mates to cry “Just one more game, I’ll beat you this time”. Whilst I’m not going to list every single mini-game (I have played them all), there are a couple of great ones, a whole host of average to no-fun games, and quite a few that should never have been included. Certain games require a Nunchuck, though most just the Remote. Most games are also played simultaneously, though there are a few that are hot seat play, meaning each player takes a turn, rather than playing all at once.
The worst mini game award would probably go to a simply titled game “Trombone”. You have to play your trombone at the right time and for the right duration, and be standing on the right coloured platform, in order to score some points. To get your monkey on the right platform, you have to move the Remote forwards and backwards to go up and down. It’s actually impossible; you’ll find yourself overshooting and ending up on the wrong platform, and won’t have a very good understanding at all of what you’re doing. You’ll get frustrated with the experience and never, ever play that one again. Other low-lights include “Banana Catcher”, which again requires you to move the Remote forward and backwards, left and right to get the bananas. Again it doesn’t really work, and isn’t really fun. Average games include “Simon Says”, which requires a Nunchuck. The Remote equals your right hand, whilst the Nunchuck represents your left hand. You just raise and lower according to what you are told. It starts off really easily, but does get faster and subsequently harder. It’s fun for a bit, but no more than that. “Shepherd” sees you controlling a dog and you have to get sheep into a pen. You use the dog to run around the field herding the sheep, and can make the dog bark to encourage the sheep to in a different direction depending on what way you have the dog facing. It’s alright, but again not the best one out there.
The highlights then? I found that all the mini-games that were preceded by the word “Monkey” were very enjoyable. “Monkey Target”, “Monkey Wars”, “Monkey Darts”, “Monkey Snowboard” and “Monkey Squash”. The best two from that would be “Monkey Squash” and “Wars”. “Squash” is literally a game of squash, and the controls work pretty well. Use the Nunchuck to get your character into position, and swipe the Remote through the air to hit the ball. It works pretty well, and is a good laugh. “Monkey Wars” puts you in control of a monkey from a first person perspective. Equipped with a gun, you basically play Red Steel multiplayer, killing anyone that moves. You shoot with B, move yourself with the Nunchuck stick, and can fire alternate weapons using the the C and Z buttons on the Nunchuck. It’s pretty fun, and is actually a decent First Person shooter. You can aim without as many difficulties as Red Steel, for example.
There are of course plenty of others that are good, bad and ugly. Unfortunately I can’t list them all or you’d all get bored. The good ones I picked out are probably the best the game has to offer, and of course the worst ones are probably the crappiest ones the game has to offer. There are fifty mini games, so I’m sure there will be at least one you will enjoy and come back to, though it definitely won’t be Trombone.
One thing all the mini games have in common is the lack of a decent explanation of the controls. Bearing in mind the Wii Remote is an unusual way of controlling games, you would have thought they would explain the games better than with a couple of moving diagrams. If I were designing it, I would have had the controls explained with text, rather than a gorilla moving the Remote, demonstrating what to do. More often than not you’ll be left hugely confused as to what you’re meant to be doing, meaning you’ll have to play several of the mini-games more them once to get the most enjoyment out of them. It’s frustrating, and not a problem I remember having in other iterations of Monkey Ball.
Super Monkey Ball games have always been colourful and vibrant, and this one is no different. I have to admit the graphics aren’t great, but I’m playing it on the cables that came with the Wii on a 32 inch TV. If I waited for the component cables to be delivered, this review would never see the light of day. Therefore my judgement on the graphics may differ to what other people claim, but there was some blurriness, and the graphics just didn’t look sharp at all. The sound though is always cheerful, and reminds you in your most heated moment to relax and be calm.
The game is probably the best in the series to date. With a control system that is tough to get used to, it starts off as the most annoying in the series. Get beyond that, and become used to controlling the world with the Remote, and you’ll discover that it’s a fun game to have in your collection. It is in no way the longest game in the series, but the single player shortness is made up for by the additional mini games.
If you’ve managed to get a hold of four Wii Remotes and four Nunchuks, then this will make a great party game if you’re bored of Wii Sports. That’s not to say you’ll have fun with all the mini games, but with three other people, there will always be something to laugh at. The best mini-games I mentioned above will find a place in your heart, and you’ll want to play them over and over again until your Remote flies through your TV. The game perhaps won’t last as long as Zelda, but until Mario Party 8 arrives, this will keep you entertained and you’ll always come back to at least five mini games, to see who wins this time.
The game is very enjoyable, but you will most definitely need mates to enjoy it to the fullest. If you’re looking for just a single player experience, knock off a point on the final score. If you’re looking for both a single and multiplayer experience, then this is the game for you.
Final Score: 7 out of 10 - Above Average (How do we rate games?)