I’ll admit it. I was a proud card-carrying Nintendo Wii fanboy. As such, I felt it was my moral obligation to show as much love to the console’s launch lineup as humanly possible. Part of blind support was my purchase of Super Monkey Ball Banana Blitz, which, oddly enough, wasn’t anywhere near as terrible as I anticipated. When I learned the game was being ported to modern consoles, I was left a bit perplexed. This was far from what I would classify as a classic, yet for some reason Sega felt the need to bestow this upon the PS4 audience. Can this HD reimagining recapture some of the magic of my admittedly rose-colored memories, or is this less a case of “why not?” and more a case of “why bother?”
Glimpses of the Past
As I alluded to earlier, I was all about evangelizing the unique aspects of the Wii early on in its life span. Part of this delusion was convincing myself that motion controls were the best thing since indoor plumbing. Nothing embodied this more than Banana Blitz. Being able to control the tilt of the world with the WiiMote and using the nunchuck to control the camera felt like a match made in heaven. You can only imagine how exciting it would be to see the difference that using dramatically more precision focused analog control sticks could make to the overall experience.
Stumbling out of the gates, it becomes obvious that something has gone terribly wrong during the porting process. Where were my precious camera controls? Unfortunately, the simple answer to that question is nowhere to be found. The camera is anchored a stationary distance away from the primate tumbler, and it is solely controlled using the tilting of the world. While this may have been acceptable during the GameCube era, just about every modern title maps the camera controls to the right stick, so this neglectful decision sticks out like a sore thumb.
There’s something to be said for the revisionist history that goes along with nostalgia. Back in the day, I saw nothing wrong with the addition of a jump button. However, looking back, this was a decision that seemed shockingly antithetical to everything that had previously existed in the series. And while I never expected to see this HD remake do away with this mechanic, per se, if they were already going to redesign certain Wii-centric challenges already, they might have at least entertained the idea. Jumping always felt out of place, but when you combine that with the complete lack of camera control, there are several situations where it renders stages far more tedious than they have any right to be.
Jumping to Conclusions
Who knew that jumping in a 3D space would be so difficult when you can only control what you see along a two-dimensional plane? Spoiler alert: anybody who survived the jump between 16 and 32-bit knows that. Why this wasn’t considered when designing the remake is beyond me. This terrible decision is even further driven home in any scenario where it was necessary to jump and quickly change directions 180 degrees. The whipping effect that the camera treats the player to is nausea-inducing, to say the very least.
Fortunately, not everything with Super Monkey Ball Banana Blitz HD is as disastrous as the core mechanics might imply. For one, when the precision controls are functioning exactly as designed, it’s hard to shake the feeling that the series could genuinely have a future on the current generation of consoles. These momentary blips show how this game, when well-tuned, can completely reinvent itself through the use of new hardware. The problem is that this sensation only seemed to flitter in and out over the course of the campaign. A vast majority of the time I found myself incessantly cursing at that evil little bonobo-faced bastard, for no fault of his own.
Early stages in the campaign are a breeze, which was extremely fortunate given the surprisingly unfriendly learning curve associated with tackling the single stick control system. Once you come to grips with the fact that things will never quite be as good as you remember, it becomes obvious that various aspects of the game have been made much easier, now that you aren’t stuck fumbling around with the tilt controls of a WiiMote. Despite me dragging the piss-poor mechanics through the mud earlier, it’s impossible to argue that the introduction of the control stick is an immense improvement over the original installment.
This trend of easy stage design continues through what amounts to roughly the first half of the game. It’s at this point where the difficulty curve jettisons skyward like it was strapped to rocket. This is where you start to reach stages that needed to be redesigned due to being completely centered around the Wii hardware. As much as I loved the increased challenge that was suddenly thrust my way, it was hard to shake the feeling that a vast amount of the audience would likely be thrown for quite a loop by the drastic change of pace. Once again, this is where the precision of using a control stick truly did shine. That said, this is also where I made the conscious choice to go into the options and turn the camera sensitivity almost all the way down. So be sure to keep that in mind once the action starts to ratchet up a bit.
Some Serious Monkey Business
One aspect of the game that I found especially underwhelming was the visuals. Sure, it absolutely lived up to its “HD” moniker, but when your core stage design revolved around a series of unimpressive geometrical objects chained together to form a maze of sorts, it isn’t hard to meet that exceedingly low bar. Quite frankly, I don’t know what I was expecting given how visually unimpressive the original entry was, but the decidedly low production values translated just as unimpressively within the Unity engine. It was certainly passible, but this isn’t exactly the type of experience that you boot up when you’re trying to show off your console’s impressive particle effects. For better or worse, it delivered on the “budget game” presentation that you’d expect from a bare-bones remake.
Yet another piece of the experience that I found to be severely lacking was easily the minigame collection. The original release had over fifty games all making use of the Wii’s motion controls, which was obviously a hit in the early days of the console’s lifespan. Aside from Wii Sports, for the first year it was the single most-used piece of software I owned simply for its vast variety and four-player support. Though the four-player part of the formula carried over to the remake, the massive multiplayer offering wasn’t quite so fortunate. In this case, only twenty percent of the original games made the jump for a grand total of ten modes. To say this is disappointing doesn’t really do it justice. If you’re truly going to remake something, everything should be present, not just the pieces that are the most convenient or appealing. My bet? These were the modes that were easiest to port over from the Wii motion controller to more standard controls.
When taking a step back to holistically look at Super Monkey Ball Banana Blitz HD, the word that comes to mind most prominently is “underwhelming.” Considering the subject matter hardly set the world on fire in its first outing, it should really come a no surprise that it remains that way the second time around. Everything from the middling production values to the lack of camera controls and a barren minigame library, all point to a rushed cash-in intent on taking advantage of those that refuse to take off their rose-colored glasses. Despite faint glimpses of the greatness that could’ve been, you’d be better served waiting for the proper reboot that this franchise absolutely deserves.
Super Monkey Ball Banana Blitz HD review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on PS4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.