A by-the-numbers entry in the long-running arcade franchise that has a few too many gimmicks, but still provides an enjoyable experience.
|Physical English||Yes – EU/NA|
World-building & Story
Aside from the somewhat ill-advised spin-off Super Monkey Ball Adventure, this series has never really had much of a story – and that’s very much the case with Banana Splitz. You’ll play as one of a variety of monkeys trapped in little hamster balls as they navigate around mazes and that’s all there is to it.
The franchise therefore builds its world in other ways. The main characters – AiAi; Baby; GonGon and MeeMee have remained consistent throughout and each is adorable with little cute mannerisms when completing levels. The maps themselves are colourful and eccentric and this helps give Monkey Ball its identity – as a bright, cheerful arcade series.
Presentation & Sound
Known for its vibrant worlds and technicolour palette, Banana Splitz delivers everything the franchise is known for on the graphical front and although it’s not particularly technically advanced, manages to look clean and brilliant on Vita.
The environments are the star of the presentation, taking inspiration from prehistoric lands and elements of other civilizations. There’s always something going on in the background and splashes of bright colours are everywhere – making the game a visual feast to look at. Interestingly, the development team opted for a claymation style for certain levels which can be bizarre looking at first, but soon stands out as being very unique while still fitting in well with the franchise’s known style.
Elsewhere, animations are all pretty good – watching AiAi boogie or Baby squeal after completing a level is always amusing. Background objects like pterodactyls or other monkeys all move according to a pattern, but it’s the combined effect of all this kinetic movement that really brings the game to life – creating the feeling of a unique, living world.
My only real presentational criticism relates to the menus. While the in-game UI is generally alright, with important elements anchored in the corners in order to not be intrusive; the start menus are kind of difficult to navigate. Everything in touch-only and some of these – such as a rotating carousel to choose characters or mini-games – are quite difficult to move around using only touch. It’s not a major issue, but one that irritated me enough to be worth mentioning.
Sound, however, is brilliant. Whether it be the plonk of hitting a barrier or the wail of a monkey who has gone out of bounds, the effects are spot on – aided by an arcade-style announcer counting down the final 10 seconds or yelling ‘GOAL!’. Music is also on point – although some of it is difficult to hear, what is in game is pretty enjoyable and fitting with the theme of the level.
Gameplay & Content
Since the initial home console entry on the Gamecube, Super Monkey Ball has always mixed challenging puzzle-and-reaction-based gameplay with creative mini-games and Banana Splitz is no different. The formula hasn’t evolved much in 10 years, but what is here is just as enjoyable as ever.
Upon booting up you’re given a variety of options. The main mode is ‘challenge’, which places you in a series of scenarios with the goal of reaching the exit within the time limit. If you’ve never played Super Monkey Ball before – you move a monkey in a ball around a map by tilting the world so they roll in your chosen direction and that’s really all there is to it. While it sounds simple in premise, the reality is a challenging and nuanced game.
While initial levels start out fairly straightforward, the title opens up later on to become incredibly challenging – moving platforms; convex and conclave slopes and even environmental objects like flying dinosaurs regularly feature and make reaching the goal much more difficult. A little too difficult, in fact. Each level comes as part of a set and should you lose all your lives you’re prompted to use a continue, but use all of these and you’re sent back to the beginning of the set of levels. It’s classic arcade-style gameplay, but feels a little punishing here.
Of course, you can use a practice mode to hone your strategies which takes the sting off a bit. And the core gameplay is addictive enough that it makes this all worthwhile – the combination of puzzle elements (figuring out what to do) with quick-reflex twitch actions (actually staying on the map and overcoming the obstacles) is incredibly addictive, giving the series that ‘just one more go’ feeling.
Mini-games make a semi-triumphant return here, playable when you need to take a break from a particularly rough part of the main game. There’s a decent selection here, although the main issue is that many of them are gimmicky in using the Vita’s inputs (front and reach touch etc.) – you can tell this is a title from 2012, and many of the ideas just don’t work that well.
The star of the show (as always) is monkey target, which has you hurtling down a hill then launching in the air and gliding to a series of islands, with points awarded for where you land. While it’s been trimmed back compared to the Gamecube days (you can’t jostle about at the top of the ramp), it’s still incredibly fun to try new strategies and chase high scores. Another stand-out is love maze, that has you controlling two monkeys with an analogue stick each and moving them through a maze without them getting too far apart.
Others are less enjoyable – monkey bowling is now played by holding the Vita vertically and using touch and tilt controls, but it isn’t too bad. That honour is saved for things like monkey rodeo (touch the back screen to collect bananas) and number ball (press the front touch to hit certain numbers in order). They’re gimmicky and have nothing to do with the central premise, making me yearn for more enjoyable ridiculous games from previous titles like monkey fight.
Overall, there is a decent amount to do in Banana Splitz – the different modes will keep you occupied for a while (even if some are throwaway, they don’t detract from the overall game) and the advanced challenges will likely take you a good few attempts to complete. With that said, you’ll likely get frustrated after a while – this isn’t the type of title you’ll play for weeks on end, but rather one you’ll keep coming back to in order to chip away at.
A well-crafted Super Monkey Ball that gets all the basics right, Banana Splitz still hasn’t fully shaken its arcade roots which leads to some brilliant elements of the presentation but some annoying elements of the gameplay. Its bright colourful world and plethora of things to do will suck you in and there’s plenty of enjoyment to be had, but you’ll want to put it down after your umpteenth fail on an advanced course.