Let’s Take It From The Top
HIGH It’s Monkey Ball!
LOW I cried over Monkey Ball.
WTF I only want to talk about Monkey Ball.
On Christmas Day in 2003, “Santa” brought me a Nintendo GameCube. This was the very first console I ever owned, and it came with a bundle of Zelda games I never cared for. however, the title that really had its hooks in me was Super Monkey Ball.
Created by Toshihiro Nagoshi (who would go on to develop the popular Yakuza series), Monkey Ball had players navigating through abstract levels and race tracks using a monkey encased in a glass ball. The object was to reach the end of a level without falling off or letting the timer run out. However, rather than controlling the monkey directly, players tilted and shifted the levels themselves, using gravity to channel the ape-ball along.
It’s a simple concept but it gets increasingly harder, thanks to hazards like gaps, folding platforms, and narrow paths that require tricky maneuvering. Beating a level is a thrill unlike any other, especially if one takes several tries. It’s as close to a perfect experience as a game can be, and debatably one of the finest ever made.
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the series, Sega has released Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania, which contains remakes of the original title, its superior sequel Super Monkey Ball 2, and the 2005 compilation of both games subtitled Deluxe. This represents well over 300 levels now playable on modern consoles, and even includes SMB 2’s delightfully weird story mode in which an evil baboon (named Dr. Badboon) threatens to steal the main character’s girlfriend.
Gameplay is nearly identical to the originals. In the singleplayer modes, players will navigate through different levels while avoiding various pitfalls. As I mentioned, the premise is incredibly simple, but like any good puzzler, getting better requires patience and practice. Even after spending dozens of hours, I found myself struggling to beat specific levels, some of which I remember being frustrated with as a child.
That frustration didn’t last long, though. before I knew it, I felt like I was six years old again and grinning from ear to ear. These titles have been repackaged perfectly, including the option to play each of the main cast in classic GameCube style and having the choice to able to swap the main menu music to the original track.
New content includes things like costumes and photo mode filters, but the absolute best thing is the array of new characters. The likes of Sonic the Hedgehog, Tails, and even Yakuza’s own Kazuma Kiryu can be used in the singleplayer levels. Hell, I thought there was no way the formula could be improved until I played as a literal Sega Dreamcast in a glass ball.
Also included is an abundance of party games for up to four players to play locally. Fan-favorite Monkey Target is here, in which players roll down a large ramp, get launched in the air, and have to glide their way onto targets in the middle of the ocean. Others include Monkey Race (four players race around different tracks and use items they pick up) as well as Monkey Fight, a boxing minigame played from a top-down perspective, in which players use an oversized boxing glove to knock opponents out of an arena. Playing these minigames with family were some of the best memories I have of my GameCube.
Like most games from my childhood, I tend to get emotional when talking about them, but Super Monkey Ball is a different beast altogether, as it was the very first console game I loved, and it’s what made me love the medium. Without these simians in glass balls, I wouldn’t be writing about videogames today.
Nostalgia and fond memories aside, Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania delivers an experience that’s always been amazing, and now it comes complete with a fresh coat of paint and a bunch of extras. To any one who hasn’t yet tried these titles, I say… Go bananas.
Disclosures: This game is published by Sega and developed by Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio. It is available on PS4, PS5, XBO/X/S, Switch, and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the XSS. Approximately 15 hours were spent in the single-player and the game was not completed (still playing). Over 5 hours were spent in the game’s multiplayer mode. Over 50 hours were spent across the original GameCube releases of each game.
Parents: According to the ESRB this game is rated E for Cartoon Violence. The site reads: This is an action platformer in which players control monkeys on a quest to retrieve stolen bananas from a villain. As players roll through each stage, they avoid traps/pitfalls, collect bananas, and compete in various party games against other players/characters. In one-party game, players shoot at incoming enemy ships from a first-person perspective. A Monkey Dogfight mini-game allows players to fire pineapple missiles and cartoony bullets at other characters; explosions, cries of pain, and screen-shaking effects highlight the action.
Colorblind Modes: There are colorblind modes available.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: Subtitles and on-screen instructions cannot be adjusted but the sound is not required to enjoy the game thanks to an abundance of visual cues. This game is fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: No the controls are not remappable but there is a control diagram.