IGN Review of Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz
Super Monkey Ball Adventure is the out-of-work, drug-using uncle that nobody talks about at family gatherings. There's a reason for it: the game branched out into an unnecessarily new direction, ignoring the engaging puzzle-platform mechanics that turned the franchise from quirky no-name to sleeper hit to begin with. Instead, gamers were left with a monkey-infested storyline that made almost no sense and some paint by numbers adventuring that broke no ground. Clearly a mistake, which is why we're happy to report that Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz for Wii shares almost nothing in common with its half-baked predecessor. It is, rather, a more direct sequel to the classic Super Monkey Ball projects. It is everything that Adventure was not and then a little more, too. So if you are a fan of the first two GameCube titles, well, you can stop reading now and just go buy the Wii installment.
Still with us? You're probably wondering about the new Wii remote-enhanced controls. Specifically, do they work? Are they fun? And does the peripheral make the experience easier or harder? All good questions and we've got the answers. We've been thinking about how we can describe the change in control mechanics - losing the analog stick setup for a gesture-based one. We liken it to learning to ride a snowboard after you've been skateboarding for years. The fundamentals are very similar, but you still have to modify your technique.
Playing Banana Blitz for the first time yields controls that feel very new and yes, there is a familiarization process. However, after a matter of minutes, you will be able to roll your monkeys around the 3D puzzle mazes with speed and accuracy that easily rival, if not exceed that of previous endeavors. On top of that, there is an intangible something that makes playing with the Wii remote inherently more enjoyable. Maybe it's the novelty. Or maybe it's the fact that the Wii-mote is more comfortable in the hand than a standard controller and can offer force feedback and audio cues for greater immersion. Whatever the case, we like it, and so will you. That noted, the controls might actually be harder to master than the analog stick configurations of old, as your wrist is relentlessly keeping center balance - a continuing job that that previously fell to your thumb.
If you've read this far and you still no have no idea what Monkey Ball is all about, we apologize for not getting there sooner. You are challenged to roll glass ball-encased monkeys (don't ask) around a series of maze-like 3D levels. You don't actually control the balls themselves; rather, you influence the tilt and sway of the mazes. In that way, it's different from games like Marble Madness, although the concepts are similar. In previous Monkey outings, this was all you had to consider, but in Banana Blitz you can also jump, which adds a welcomed new element of skill and strategy to navigating the boards. Tap the A button and your monkey will hop up stairs and across chasms, impossible feats in the first two projects. The objective is merely to reach the goal for each stage and continue to the next, but as you advance, the boards become increasingly more difficult.
Banana Blitz is developed by the same team that made Super Monkey Ball 1 and 2, which is evident from the moment the game begins because it employs all the same formulas. They are tried-and-true formulas, mind you, so we're not exactly complaining. There is a main game, which features eight standard worlds and two unlockable for a total of about 100 puzzle mazes. That roster is not as deep as some of the other games, which is unfortunate. Still, it's nothing to balk at, either.
If you've got any skill, you will probably be able to whip through the first two worlds, but by the time you hit the third the level of difficulty will be ramped up dramatically. If you can roll unscathed by the eighth world then you owe yourself a pat on the back because it is hard. If you've been worrying about difficulty, don't - some of the later stages are so ridiculously complex and unforgiving that we pulled out our hair until we were bald. If that reads like a criticism, it's not. We put high value on challenging games and we will attest that after you successfully master some of the ludicrous stages in Banana Blitz you will walk away with a real, true sense of accomplishment.
The puzzle mazes are designed in such a way that they naturally lend themselves to shortcuts, which is where the men are separated from the boys, so to speak. Casuals will never so much as consider straying from the set path, but seasoned gamers will do their best to speed off ledges, bounce down pathways, and inevitably shave a minute or more off their run time. We have some examples of the fantastic and rewarding shortcuts in our video review, which we're able to show you because - once again - you can save your best replays to Wii's internal flash memory. We haven't encountered any limitation on the number of replays you can save, either. We've got about 15 so far and we're continuing to add more as we continue to try out different shortcuts. The added side effect to the quest for shortcuts is that it adds considerable replay to the main mode.
We could safely give Banana Blitz a thumbs up if it were merely a compilation of the regular puzzle mazes, but the title additionally comes packed with a whopping number of two-to-four-player-compatible mini-games - 50 of them, to be specific. The majority of minis singularly utilize the Wii-mote, although several of them also employ the nunchuk attachment for added control. None of these offerings are particular deep. Some are throwaways entirely. Flipping the Wii remote up, down and up again to make a monkey hop in Jump Rope is a bore, for example. Monkey Bowling, while decent, doesn't hold a candle to Wii Sports bowling. On the other hand, though, a good chunk of the minis are pretty engaging, albeit in short bursts and - like Wii Sports - they are better with friends and family. Monkey Wars, a very basic first-person shooter mode, in many ways features tighter and more responsive control than Ubisoft's ambitious Red Steel. And classics like Monkey Target, a mini where you need to fly the primates across waterways and land them onto targets for points, are back for another go.
The studio seems to have invested quite a lot of time into these mini-games. The selection is highly varied and there are some true stand-outs. Even so, we still prefer the main puzzles to the majority of the minis and therefore wish the developer had spent more time on the single-player affair. A good 150 or even (dare we think it) 200 puzzle stages and 25 or even 15 great mini-games would have suited us just fine.
Banana Blitz is far and away the most stylish and prettiest Monkey Ball yet. We've seen some comments to the contrary by other reviewers and frankly we think they're crazy. The game has a very clean, sparkly look to it made possible via crisp textures and smooth particle effects. Backgrounds show depth of blur as the monkeys roll through them and lighting effects illuminate the foregrounds. The quasi-cel-shaded style, which gives the title a very cartoon-like appeal, is a natural fit for the franchise. Meanwhile, everything runs at 60 frames per second and in both progressive scan and 16:9 widescreen modes. Some players may find themselves turned off by Banana Blitz's intentionally simplistic graphics, though.
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