Sega, on a roll (Part I): Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD ($39.99) is a pretty fun time on the Switch, but you better have steady hands and steadier nerves if you want any chance of completing this game. Yes, the multiplayer is a ton of crazy fun here (that could have used a few more games) and that’s a reason some will jump all over this with a few friends. But this is a game where the solo play can be as hair-raising as it gets because it’s too easy to fail (and multiple times at that) some courses if you’re susceptible to anything from an itchy body part or any sort of issues with your controller.
If you’re new to this, it’s a game that will have you cracking up and pulling out hairs in equal measures. There’s a goofy plot here, but all you need to know is you’re a monkey in a big plastic ball and you need to roll, jump and quickly grab bananas as a clock is ticking down, fighting bosses a few times along the way. You probably won’t be good at this initially, but practice makes perfect, as they say. Paradoxically, both Zen-like calm and lightning reflexes are absolutely necessary in this game where courses are tightly timed, bosses require super-quick pattern recognition and you need to play and replay stages to nab those bananas without falling off some deviously designed courses.
Well, you do have to fall off some courses, but onto a lower part of a level, or to shave seconds off a course time, missing a few bunches of bananas in the process (until you figure out how to get them later in a different run). Developer Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio (yes, the folks behind the excellent Yakuza games as well as a few others) took the 2006 Wii-only game and have tweaked it into a multi-console game that’s quite good and yes, maddening when it needs to be. In addition to reworking the interface and adding online functionality, 40 of the Wii-specific mini-games are gone (well, 50 was overkill way back then and the Wii remote was a pain to use for some of them), cut down to a mere 10 that keep multiplayer games a faster-paced chunk of mayhem for up to four players.
The super fast pace of the game will have you bobbing and weaving like a boxer, but without the brain cell loss. Courses are so varied that they keep things popping and somewhat hilarious in that new challenges are introduced and yep, that running clock means you have to figure out what to do fast. This is a game that’s meant to be replayed, so failing hard at a few attempts is expected. Then again, so are luck and skill-filled moments where you pull of some jumps and rolls that get you giddy when you nail them. I’m still laughing at my own bits of luck in this game, from going off the twisty section in one area and thinking all was lost, only to land on a new section of the map, and grabbing the controller I’d just put down, managing to make it to the level’s end with a few seconds to spare.
Another time, I blinked and missed a turn, went sailing off into monkey doom, but spied what I thought was a shortcut to the exit. It was, but man, the concentration and crazy jumps required almost an hour to perfect. Each time I was making just a bit more progress, a little slip and fall took place along the way (Hey, Sega? Who do I sue?!). I couldn’t stop until I’d beaten that section (pride comes both before and after the fall here) and when I did, I needed to take a break and rest because I think I was a bit dizzy and wiped out from the experience. Basically, you sneeze, blink, have a controller that’s screwy, get some dust in your eyes, or have a pet that pokes into your lap at the most inopportune times? Yeah, that sort of monkey business will literally (or is it figuratively?) send you over the edge.
Multiplayer is nuts overall (or bananas, if you want to keep the theme going) with 10 mini-games to try out and rewards for completing that 10 successfully in one sitting. A friend figured out a silly trick where he let the three other players go first in some of the maps, claiming an easy victory when we fell off, or he found that being the slowest was the best way to win because we were all going for broke as he was taking it easy (well, as easy as it can get when you’re rolling on tilting platforms or flying and trying to land on a distant target). Yes, we all glared at him and he got the picture, but it was still fun while it lasted for all. Yes, it’s a mere 10 games here, but I’ll guess that this was meant to be a taste of things (free or very cheap DLC could always be an option if the game has legs, I think) as opposed to a be-all, end-all thing.
As a remaster, it’s okay visually but it’s not going to floor the graphics first folks. The changes here make for a (much) more streamlined game experience (those Wii-exclusive mini-games won’t be missed by new players or those that see that some might not work so well now). You also get (surprise!?) Sonic the Hedgehog as a not so secret playable character (a nice extra). He’s got no bananas to collect, but lots of those gold rings we all know he loves to accumulate. I wouldn’t be too surprised to see a spin-off here at some point with all Sonic characters, as this is the type of game that they’d fit in perfectly. We shall see. I suppose. Okay, I’m going to shut up now – go get this game, though. Make sure your Joy-Cons are up to the task at hand, though. There’s no room for error in this one.
Score: B (80%)