Long have I missed the days of sitting on the couch after school with some friends with a new game and staying up all night playing through the whole thing collectively and unlocking a bunch of cool extras along the way. In today’s market, unlockables are usually behind paywalls as DLC or some sort of season pass. While Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania may fall into some of these modern issues, it’s the closest I’ve been to that rewarding feeling in a long time. SMBBM is the newest addition in the Monkey Ball series, a series of platform/puzzle/party games from Ryu Ga Studios and published by Sega. So how does it hold up? Is this entry king of the jungle or has Sega just been monkeying around with this newest entry? (I can’t promise there won’t be more puns) Let’s find out!
SMBBM has a very simple story/premise. You are a monkey (or other famous Sega mascot… more on that later) and you’re in a ball and it’s up to you to roll your way through hundreds of increasingly difficult stages. SMBBM story is a retelling of the first three games (SMB 1, SMB Deluxe and SMB 2) and are told in a series of motion comics before each new world. You’re rolling through these worlds on your quest to stop Doctor Bad-Boon (Ha! They’re writing the puns for me.) and save the banana hoard! The story really takes a backseat to the gameplay and upgraded visuals and I’m okay with that! Not every game needs to be some grand epic, it’s nice to have a simple, silly story. It reminded me of a Saturday morning cartoon, and I found that very charming.
SMBBM’s main game is simple to learn and hard to master. You navigate your monkey to the goal of each stage and try to avoid falling off on the way there! The game is controlled with just a control stick, and I like that. I feel it makes it very accessible for anyone to pick up and give a try, regardless of their level of knowledge of games. The levels also have a nice progression of difficulty. The game starts out easy but progressively ramps up the difficulty until you’re scratching your head and asking yourself “how can I possibly get there?”. The stages in the game are all entirely taken from the first three games, and this is another plus in my book. I feel as the series went on the stages started to lose their creativity but the stages of the first few games are great little puzzles. I feel there’s been enough time removed from the original games to revisit these stages in all their shiny, new HD glory for returning players, it’s also a great place for new fans to hop on and try a few stages! Each world of the main game has a fun theme, you’ll be going through stages in jungles, the depths of the oceans and even inside a volcano! Alongside the main adventure there’s fun extra unlockable modes, a challenge mode to see which of your friends can finish a stage the fastest and party mode. Party mode is a fun diversion from the main game and is host to several fun party games including monkey golf, monkey billiards and my favorite monkey bowling. These party games are also pulled from the original games and are quite fun. Even on my own I found it hard to put down the monkey bowling! These games are simple, arcade style fun and can liven up an afternoon with friends! One of the main things that keeps me going back to this game over and over is the progression. Collecting bananas in the main mode and hitting certain milestones in game give you points to spend in the in-game shop to unlock a wide variety of things including characters, costumes, extra modes and more! This really brought me back to my youth when you had to unlock everything on your own in a game and there’s a real sense of accomplishment when you unlock something! During my time with the game, I’ve brought it to multiple friends’ houses and spent more hours than I like to admit, unlocking as much content as we could! Most of the unlockable characters in the game are excellent additions as well! Sega mascots like Sonic are here alongside some more obscure Sega faces, like Beat from the niche franchise Jet Set Radio (new game on the way? Please Sega!) It’s fun to play as these new characters because alongside changing the character in the ball, it also changes other little things. For instance, instead of collecting Bananas Sonics collectibles are rings! While I had a great time with this game unlocking new characters, I would like to address something I am a little disappointed with, the downloadable characters. In a game like this where you can unlock so much extra content by playing the game, it’s a shame to see some characters, like Morgana from the Persona series, locked behind a paywall. Characters are purely cosmetic from what I can tell but it does sting that some fun faces are locked behind $5 instead of a reward for playing the game. That said, there are a bunch of fun characters you can unlock without spending a single extra penny purely through gameplay and that is much appreciated.
For this review I played the Nintendo Switch version of the game, and I must say, it is an excellent looking game. The game runs at a solid 60FPS in both handheld and docked and seems to be around 1080p docked and 720p handheld. Some patterns on walls, obstacles and things like that can look a little low poly but for the most part this is a great looking game. The new art style that the series adopted a few years back looks great. I love the designs of all the characters and their soft, cute style. It’s just bananas how darn cute everything is and I for one, love it!
Opening the game you’re greeted with the catchiest theme song in the world. From that point on the soundtrack never seems to disappoint! Every song is a good fit for the stage/ game they’re in and adds to the overall presentation. If I had any nitpicks, I’d have to say I wish there was more feedback from your character. They occasionally grunt and celebrate when you hit a goal or yell if you fall off the stage, but I wish there were more audio reactions to things happening. A simple “woah” while your monkey is being launched at 100s of km/h or and “uh-oh” when you’re close to the edge of a stage would have been nice. Overall, sound is good and works for the game.
My time with SMBBM has been banan-tastic (I’m SWINGING for the fences with these I know). The game hearkens back to an older time in gaming and is a great family/party game for any age/any experience level with games. I love the art style and the fun progression system of unlocks that made me want to keep coming back. While the paywall in front of downloadable content is a bit of a bummer and the levels can start to get a little difficult the further you progress, I ape-solutely recommend this game to anyone. On top of being an already budget game I frequently see it go on sale so it’s a hard game to pass up in my eyes.
Final grade: A (wanted to do B for banana but it’s too dang good)