• Super Monkey Ball: Banana Splitz Review - PlayStation Vita

    Super Monkey Ball was, for many, the shining light of the GameCube launch titles. Since then there have been updates, evolutions and additions to the formula that have met with commercial success but less critical acclaim. This is how the review for Super Monkey Ball 3D began in 2011, and what a disappointment it turned out to be [link]. Now thought there is a new handheld console in town and Sega seem to have heeded the negative press that their last effort garnered. AiAi is back in a big way but is it enough to save the series?

    First things first, the clean and colourful visual style of the Super Monkey Ball world translates perfectly to the Vita’s widescreen display. There are some graphical rough patches, particularly in the Monkey Target mini game. The water looks like it has been animated by an actual simian, but the main game moves along smoothly, colourfully and compliments the style of the game well. Everything has a clean sheen to it that shows how well Sony’s portable can handle a bright colour palette.

    As far as the gameplay goes Sega have wisely decided to take the core experience back to its roots. Choose a monkey based ball, use the analogue stick to tilt the maze it finds itself on and guide it to the goal. No buttons, no motion controls (although you can choose to use tilt based control in the main game if you really want to) and no touch controls. As it happens there are a number of levels in the early stages of Beginner Mode that ape the first game so precisely you’ll wonder if Banana Splitz isn’t more of a remake than the latest entry to the series. Thankfully as you progress the content opens up to reveal new levels later on that are all based on exciting new ‘worlds’. In reality the worlds have little or no impact to the stages but that isn’t the point. Monkey Ball needs no trickery, it has always been a pure concept.

    Thankfully this is a difficult addition to the series as well. The Vita’s analog stick provides a good enough level of control that failure will fall down to your lack of ability to control the maze or, as it always has been on the tighter sections of Monkey Ball, the camera. The early stages can be breezed through quickly but as soon as you get onto the Advanced Mode (not to mention the locked Expert mode) you will fail. This is good though, the stages are maddeningly brilliant at times (just like the original game) and although it never quite reaches the heights of the first outing, it is a return to form after the series nearly died a death on the 3DS.

    Continues are limited so you won’t be able to spam your way to the end, you are forced to learn the stages and maintain a steady nerve for the longer playthroughs Banana Splitz requires of you. In the case of the Advanced Mode that is 50 stages in a row, no mean feat by any standard. Repetition is part of the learning experience here and the gradual build up of muscle reaction memory that happens with practice should be properly seen as part of the experience and not a deterrent to any new players. The Vita finally has a game of skill to call its own. Make no mistake, this is challenging stuff but that is something to be applauded, an easy Monkey Ball is a pointless endeavour.

    Criticism can fairly be levelled at the menu interface; it takes too long to get into a game mode from the top screen and the process jars at times. Arguably this is probably because Sega have made a real effort with all the extra content packed into the box. Mini Games return with some old friends (Target and Bowling) and some new additions (Rodeo and Bingo). The standout highlight has to be Love Test, you get a top down view of two mazes and two monkeys, each allocated to a different analogue stick. Guide both monkeys to the end as quickly as possible and without breaking the ‘love link’ between the two of them. There is also the option for Wi-Fi and local multiplayer and a sort of level editor. The rest are a reasonable distraction and showcase Sega’s understanding of the touch and motion controls they could have used throughout the main game but thankfully left them to the additional content instead.

    The editor isn’t what you’d imagine though, you take a photo of something and the Vita creates a level for you. You have little control over the end product but it is a nice addition nonetheless. Want to roll around a picture of your cat? Go for it.

    Considering the retail price started at less than £15 it is difficult to find much to fault in Banana Splitz. It never quite reaches the dizzying heights set by Super Monkey Ball but it goes a long way to putting the series back on track. A little more spit and polish would have made this a must buy Vita title but as it stands it is a great pick up and play game and a useful addition to Sony’s handheld platform.

    + Back to the series roots
    + Great looking with proper controls
    + A decent challenge

    - Poor menus
    - Some dubious mini games (Rodeo)
    - Not quite as good as the first

    System: Sony PlayStation Vita
    Genre: Platform
    Developer: Marvelous AQL
    Publisher: Sega
    Players: 1 - 4
    Version: European

    Score: 8/10