Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania game review — A return to form, or has Sega slipped up?

Creator Toshihiro Nagoshi’s last game before the top banana splits from RGG Studios.

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Super Monkey Ball is an addictive game series that was created by Sega all the way back in 2001 for arcades. It thrilled audiences with inventive level design and strong ideas that naturally pushed audiences towards the ‘just one more go’ mentality.

Monkey Ball was arcade fun at it’s purest, with high score competitions being the priority. When a home console port was released for the Nintendo GameCube shortly after the untimely demise of the Sega Dreamcast, people were excited — it was one of the first signs that Sega would still make new fun things without making their own hardware. The game was a smash hit, and led to a barrage of sequels for every game machine the Japanese company could make one for. 

After Super Monkey Ball Deluxe, the original creators basically left the series behind to focus on telling heartfelt stories about a criminal with an honorable soul in Kamurocho. It was then that the series quality started to fall, until AiAi and his monkey friends were all but forgotten, relegated to the confines of crossover kart racing games alongside the likes of the Bonanza Bros and Shenmue’s Ryo Hazuki.

aiai sonic allstars racing transformed

Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania brings back the beloved Super Monkey Ball arcade gameplay for modern console audiences, while also continuing Sega’s streak of not releasing a brand new entry in the series since 2012’s Super Monkey Ball: Banana Splitz on the PlayStation Vita. It’s a remake of Super Monkey Ball Deluxe, which was an enhanced compilation of Super Monkey Ball 1 and 2 for the PlayStation 2 and the original Xbox. 

While Sega has added several much needed quality of life features to Super Monkey Ball Deluxe, it also changes many things about it. Are those changes for the worse, or do they make this Super Monkey Ball Deluxe Deluxe? Let’s get into it.

Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania performance

super monkey ball banana mania

I was impressed with the performance of Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania, and even was pleased that RGG Studios went the extra mile and made a native version for Xbox Series X/S and PlayStation 5. Much like 2019’s Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD, the game has been remade in the Unity Engine, which is far more graphically capable than previous engines that have been used for most entries in the series, so the game is very pretty comparatively.

One of the nicest things about this port is that the engine and graphics are very scalable, so the game runs just as well on Nintendo Switch as it does on Xbox Series X/S — at least in single player modes. If you’re in split-screen multiplayer then you’ll see the frame rate and resolution lowered on weaker machines.  

Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania gameplay

Banana Mania has all of the elements of a typical Super Monkey Ball experience, with monkeys in gachapon balls rolling through levels and collecting bananas on their way to goals. These levels steadily increase in difficulty, as you’d expect. 

Arcade style lives are gone, which definitely adds to Super Monkey Ball’s replayability. Get enough failures on any level and you’ll get offered the Auto Helper feature that will double your time and help keep you on track to the end of the level, but if you do take advantage of that then you won’t unlock an additional stage for the Challenge Mode.

The more I played Banana Mania, the more I felt unsure if the movement was 1:1 with the OG Super Monkey Ball games it is based on. It didn’t quite feel right. Fans that are more dedicated than me on Twitter explained that the game uses a square input gate instead of a circle input gate, which means that my stick inputs had to travel further to do what I used to be able to do with ease, which obviously made the control feel off. Apparently you can only change it on PC, which doesn’t help me while I’m playing on the Xbox SX. 

baby banana mania

I also felt like I was wrestling with the new camera more often than the old one, which isn’t something you want to be doing at all — especially in a fast paced game where you’re rolling a marble around on moving platforms and slopes. 

Along with the remade level content from Super Monkey Ball 1, 2 and Deluxe, there’s a selection of classic SMB party games that you can play against computer opponents or your real life friends. Sadly, I had several crashes while trying to load into them. When I did get in, the game physics weren’t correct. This was especially noticeable in fan-favorite minigames like Monkey Target.

Super Monkey Ball: Like a Dragon

In a very ‘modern RGG Studios’ move, there are in-game challenges that you can complete to get coins for the shop. Both the implementation and the menu for it reminded me of  a Yakuza game’s completion list. Thankfully, in this case, they’ve left out Monkey Shogi.

It’s nice that Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania acknowledges your records on some of the in-game screens, but it’d probably be better if it showed and compared your record times against friends times after finishing a level. The game in general could use a little bit more integrated asymmetrical multiplayer, perhaps further spotlighting the leaderboards and maybe even adding friend ghosts that you can race against in time trials.

Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania story mode

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The Story Mode from SMB2 is here, except the previously very charming cutscenes have been replaced with dull motion comics that no longer include any of the actual dialogue. It’s nice the mode is here, but the presentation is honestly just worse than before. 

As for the Story Mode levels themselves, they’re largely the same as the levels from Super Monkey Ball 2’s Challenge Mode anyway. You only really need to play one or the other, unless you’re really bothered about going for a 100% completion rate. 

Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania character customization

Banana Mania has a shop where you can unlock characters, modes and outfit customization pieces for the various playable monkeys. Monkey characters from later games in the series can be found here, alongside several guest character cameos among the unlockable roster, including Sonic the Hedgehog, Tails the Fox, Kazuma Kiryu and Beat from other Sega franchises. 

This unlockable roster can be expanded even further with DLC, bringing in not only playable classic Sega console systems themselves but characters from further afield like Hello Kitty and Suezo from Monster Rancher.

It seems like there might’ve been a Sega mandate in place on certain features this year, as the Sonic Forces style customization pieces and their menu are a lot like a similar feature in Sonic Colors Ultimate. If I’m honest I’d much rather the effort had gone into adding Majima or Ichiban from Yakuza or something, as I was far more likely to use extra characters over the option to put AiAi in a hat.

Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania music

super monkey ball banana mania early access

Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania has a redone soundtrack, which is fairly good. It never really made me feel anything, but then again I can’t really say the original did either. If you’re a fan of the original Super Monkey Ball Deluxe soundtrack, there’s an option to Switch to it after the purchase of a “Classic Soundtrack DLC” pack that costs $4.99. I assume this is a licensing thing, as otherwise it just comes off as a bit money hungry.

While discussing the music, I should point out that I’m sad that Banana Mania’s theme song “Hello Banana!” was changed in the west, as in Japan it has lyrics performed by Banana Fritters (a band made up of series voice actors Koichi Yamadera, Noriko Hidaka, and Toshihiko Seki) and Super Monkey Ball series creator Toshihiro Nagoshi. 

The English version of the song is fine, but lacks the same emotional attachment to the series you can hear in the voices of the original. Having now heard both versions after the Japanese one was shared online, I feel a bit frustrated that there’s no option to switch to the obviously superior one at all in my copy of the game. 

In conclusion

I’m glad that RGG Studios took the time to make Banana Mania, but I do wonder if the changes to the controls and physics take it too far from where it started out for the game to be that good of a redo. At the end of the day it is still a remaster of a better game than last time, when they polished up Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz for the Wii, but it’s still not what I’d really like, which is a brand-new Super Monkey Ball game. 

For those new to the series, or those who are unfamiliar with Super Monkey Ball in general, or even those who have forgotten what it was like — it’s a great version of a classic, don’t get me wrong. There’s plenty of fun to be had here. It’s probably not the version I’ll go back to in the future when I get nostalgic for the times I’ve rolled monkeys around mazes in plastic prize balls in the past, but there’s still value in Super Monkey Ball: Banana Mania’s very existence. 

Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania Review

The Good
  • Super Monkey Ball’s game design was already good, but modern changes like the removal of lives encourages the ‘just one more level’ design philosophy even more.
  • New graphics are pleasing to the eye. 
  • Guest stars like Kazuma Kiryu make any game with arcade action better.
The Bad
  • Banana Mania’s controls, physics and camera aren’t exactly as they were. 
  • Cutscenes in Story Mode are worse. 
  • There’s a lot of reused levels throughout the modes, this was true of Super Monkey Ball Deluxe and still detracts from the experience here.
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0 /5

Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania brings back a pair of beloved classics, but while we had fun, the changes to the controls, the physics and the camera in the remake do leave us sort of wishing they’d just gone with emulating the original game instead. 

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