Super Monkey Ball is considered by many to offer the perfect balance between simple controls and challenging gameplay. The simple art of tilting the game-world to move a ball (with a monkey inside it) through a course, from the start to the finish, has provided many gamers with hours upon hours of joy and frustration. While the series has found its way onto numerous systems, the GameCube was where it made its home debut, and it makes perfect sense for the Wii to receive the first 'next-gen' version.
Banana Blitz packs the kind of content that you'd expect to find in a Monkey Ball game. The core single-player game is once again a series of increasingly difficult courses to navigate, and there's the expected collection of mini-games. On paper the collection of over 40 stages (boss battles included) and 50 mini-games seems like excellent value, and had each component lived up to the Monkey Ball heritage, we'd most certainly have a sure-fire early Wii classic on our hands - but we don't.
So, what went wrong? Being a Wii game, surely this makes use of the new motion sensitive controllers to deliver a form of Monkey Ball that we didn't think was possible when we were still twiddling our thumbs on d-pads and analogue sticks? Well, yes and no. The basic tilt control has been translated pretty well to the Wii-mote, although the way you're forced to hold it makes tilting forwards feel a tad unnatural. Everything feels a little awkward at first, but it doesn't take long to settle into the groove, meaning the single-player portion of the game can be hammered through at quite a pace once you're comfortable with the new controls.
The courses aren't from the exact same mould as before either. They seem longer than they've been in previous games and you now have the ability to jump, either by pressing the 'A' button or by holding 'B' and flicking the Wii-mote up. With the Wii-mote method being rather hit and miss, the rather 'last-gen' button-press is the only real option, but the jump move does allow the courses to be a little more ambitious than in previous instalments. It doesn't really make the game superior to all the rest, but it gives it a dose of freshness.
'... the majority of the 50 [mini-games] on offer are so bad that even experienced gamers will struggle to work out what they're doing wrong.'
Once you've grown tired of setting new fastest times and your right arm is near crippled due to excessive tilting forwards, there's the small matter of 50 mini-games to work through. With the Wii being all about bringing non-gamers in on the fun you'd have put the mini-games in the Monkey Ball series right at the top of the list to receive the Wii treatment. Monkey Target, Monkey Boxing and Monkey Bowling are classic mini-games that are whipped out whenever some mates are round, so what of the Wii mini-game collection? Is it the best yet?
To put it rather bluntly: No. I find it hard to say, but the majority of the 50 on offer are so bad that even experienced gamers will struggle to work out what they're doing wrong. At times the controls seemed so unwieldy that I went back to the pre-game instructions, just to make sure that I wasn't foolishly holding the Wii-mote incorrectly or simply not understanding what I was meant to be doing. It wasn't me though; it was simply the poor game design and implementation. Trying to get four people to play together is just asking for trouble, especially if any of them are new to gaming, and goes against Nintendo's thinking behind the Wii.
Detailing each mini-game would take forever and would be largely pointless, but a few deserve a special mention. Alien Attack and Paraglider require you to move both the Nunchuck and Wii-mote in order to steer - something that clearly sounded good on paper, but is a complete nightmare in practice. Trombone is a complete disaster, when it should have been a ridiculously simple rhythm-based mini-game; Monkey Bowling has lost all of its charm; Monkey Target only features one course; and each variation on fishing included is far too fiddly to be enjoyable.
Die-hard Monkey Ball fans will no doubt shriek disapprovingly at the above criticisms, but the games really need to be played to see just how poor they are. Had there been a handful of great games amongst them, the sense of extreme disappointment would have been lessened, but the best on offer are simply 'playable', and can't really be called classics alongside the Monkey Ball games of old. The point and shoot games work the best and Monkey Race is easy enough to play, but they lack that important monkey magic.
The series has never been technically brilliant, but its visuals have always had a certain charm - no doubt helped by the selection of cute monkeys. Banana Blitz once again eschews lavish detail in favour of bright colours and simple level designs, but it does the job, and each area has its own distinct look. Sadly, the mini-games don't come off quite as well, with many looking like simple University projects that have been knocked together at the last moment. Audio is exactly as expected, but this doesn't make some of the music any less annoying. There are also a few menu navigation issues, with certain screens not allowing you to exit out of them, and there's no way to quit out of a game unless you lose all your lives.
If this had been the first time Monkey Ball had graced our consoles it probably wouldn't have been so disappointing, but it would also be a series that few people would care about. The standard tilting-world stages are fun, although they'd arguably work better with a standard GameCube controller, but the mini-games only really serve as something else to put on the back of the box. Wii Sports and Wii Play might be simple, but both show off the Wii's new controllers infinitely better than Super Monkey Ball Banana Blitz. It's forgivable as a launch game, but SEGA needs to make big improvements in the future.