It's nice to know that Wii can still play the original Super Monkey Ball.
Sega seems intent on moving its Monkey Ball franchise farther and farther away from what it was when it became a surprise hit at the GameCube launch. For better or worse, Banana Blitz is also significantly different from its predecessors. It's an entertaining platform game with a poor version of Mario Party thrown in.
The single player game consists of a series of worlds, each containing several stages and a boss battle. The stages are quite entertaining and they flow together well. The goal of each is the same as past games; get the monkey to the finish within the time limit. Bananas can be picked up for bonus points and extra lives. One new mechanic that differentiates this game from the earlier games is the addition of a jump ability. Now that the monkeys can jump all over the place, the game feels a lot more like a classic platformer. Precision takes a back seat to fast paced hopping and rolling. This won't be a welcome change for fans of the original, but it is still a lot of fun.
The game controls in one hand using the A button (to jump) and the tilt sensors of the remote. As the remote is tilted, the stage moves in a similar fashion. This allows for extremely fluid control that becomes natural very quickly. At first it can be frustrating, as there is no sensitivity option in the configuration for the game. It turns out that the different monkeys take care of sensitivity. The weight of the character translates directly to the sensitivity of the remote. When playing as Baby, the slightest motions send him rolling at an extreme pace. If GonGon is chosen, the remote will have to be tipped almost perpendicular to its starting position in order to get him to roll at any considerable speed. Once the perfect monkey is discovered, the Wii remote will feel perfect.
The boss battles take the platform feel even further. The vast majority of the bosses center around hopping and hitting a weak point. These fights often break up the enjoyment of the actual levels. They can be overly frustrating and significantly different enough that they take away from the fun. Very few battles actually involve rolling through obstacles, but those work the best. The idea of boss battles isn't a bad one, but the actual level design could use some improvement.
All of the good in this game is done once you move away from the single player experience. The multiplayer mode takes about 300 steps backward over every previous multiplayer Monkey Ball game. While the game boasts 50 mini-games to choose from, those games range from shallow to broken. There is just no good reason to come back to the title. The most successful mini-games of past Monkey Ball games are either overshadowed by the games in Wii Sports, or cheapened to the point of no return.
Probably the biggest culprit is everyone's favorite game, Monkey Target. Many previous players have probably spent more time on this mini-game than they have on the main game. So how has it changed in Banana Blitz? That awesome ski jump start? Gone. Now you just get fired out of a cannon. You can't create any variations in the beginning. Did they add a bunch of new target layouts and levels? Not at all. Now there is only one level that is repeated over and over again and it is far from interesting.
Other mini-games don't even function correctly. They are so bad that they may make you want to throw your Wii remote in the trash and pick up a normal controller again. Other Wii games have proven that this is not the fault of the hardware, but when a simple gesture is described on the screen before the game starts, and that same gesture never produces the desired result, it's hard to know who to blame. One very specific example of this is MonkeySmith. The premise is simple: there are three different directions you can swing your hammer, and you have to do what the screen tells you. Good luck getting any results. Your monkey will be swinging to the left when you are trying to swing to the right. Your monkey won't swing at all when you are trying to swing to the left. There are few games in history more frustrating than this.
There are also some mini-games that make you wonder if they even tested the concept. There are two games (Banana Catch and Paper Sumo) that use a combination of the pointer and depth sensitivity to place a crosshair on the screen. This is somewhat hard to explain, but you are placing your pointer on a spot that is in three dimensions. They tried to accomplish this by using left-to-right pointing for left-to-right placing, and the depth of the remote (relative to the screen) for the depth placing. Sounds good in theory, but when looking at the almost isometric view it makes more sense to move the pointer up and down for depth. It took dozens of tries to even complete either of these games and even then it was overly frustrating. Why on Earth wouldn't they just use the pointer for both directions like everyone would expect them to?
The strange pointer decisions don't end there, either. In some games the pointer is used for a function that doesn't actually involve having a cross hair (or the like) on the screen. In both golf games (disc and normal) you use the pointer to select your aim based on a pivoting arrow in the center of the screen. With no specific point of reference, it's hard to tell what you are supposed to do in order to move the pivoting arrow. The result is an extremely frustrating experience that is borderline unplayable.
Not all of the games are this bad, but the best of the bunch would be right at home in a Mario Party title, which is a far cry from the multiplayer games of the earlier titles. Having broken and bad games in the mix ruins the entire experience anyway. Players shouldn't have to flag which games they shouldn't pick just because they don't work.
If your favorite part about Monkey Ball is the single player experience, you will probably still have a lot of fun with this title and you shouldn't let this review scare you. If you were looking forward to the multiplayer mode, you should probably keep looking somewhere else. Had this game been packaged with the system instead of Wii sports, there would be many confused owners. At least developers will know how not to use the Wii remote's features in the future.