Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz
Once upon a time, AiAi and his primate pals were enjoying yet another sunny day at their tropical island hideaway. The lives of these monkeys are a far cry from those of their brethren in the wild jungles; instead of foraging for subsistence and avoiding predators, . But just as our fruit-obsessed hero was about to chow down on yet another one of his prized possessions, a mysterious foe swoops in and nabs his Golden Banana. We aren’t told exactly why this gilded piece of potassium is so important, but it sends AiAi and the rest of his little buddies into a fist-shaking rage. With the sweet taste of vengeance flowing through their gaping, toothless mouths, the monkeys scramble forth to reclaim what’s rightfully theirs.
Unlike real primates, however, the heroes of Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz won’t relentlessly hunt down their prey and rip him into gory shreds. Instead, they’ll get into a bunch of large balls and pursue their enemy by rolling around the island’s convoluted trails and pathways. Forget about swinging on vines or gallivanting through the jungle canopy; inside their plastic casings, this motley crew of heroes will use nothing more than physics (accompanied by your deft use of the WiiMote) to see them through the journey unscathed. While AiAi is pretty average in terms of physicality, his girlfriend MeeMee can jump with the agility of an Olympian. His buddy GonGon may look like some kiddy version of King Kong, but his top-notch rolling speed (balanced by abysmal acceleration) and considerable girth make him a force to be reckoned with. Since each of the six monkeys comes with different stats and handling, you’ll have little trouble finding one that fits your playing style.
“They spend their time relaxing on the beach, participating in all sorts of generic mini-games, and greedily consuming AiAi’s vast stash of bananas”Not-so natural selection aside, the game whisks you away to the first of the several dozen levels that make up Banana Blitz. Before you lay a multicolored labyrinth made up of checkered walkways, spiraling ramps, and narrow ledges. Instead of using the WiiMote to point the monkey ball in the right direction, you’ll use the controller to manipulate the level itself. Even the steepest slopes can be traversed with a simple rotation of the your wrist. Need to scale that imposing hill? Try tilting the controller downward until the ball gains enough momentum on the newly level surface. As your monkey ball zooms haphazardly through the game’s many twists and turns, you’ll have to avoid several obstacles along the way. Things like swaying bridges, gyrating fans, and spiky posts can send the monkeys careening into bottomless pits and their unseen demises. Should your dexterity stay true, you’ll nab some of the bananas strewn throughout the level before rolling into the rainbow-colored goal at the end.
That’s assuming, of course, that you can make it through the level in the first place. Banana Blitz is fairly forgiving of mistakes; despite the limited amount of extra lives your monkey can obtain, you’re essentially granted an unending amount of continues. You’ll need them, too. While the gameplay revolves around using the WiiMote to tilt everything, you’ll find that the extent of your control and the physics involved are limited. Unlike Kororinpa, another Wii title crafted with the same gameplay style as this game, you won’t be given free reign over the level manipulation. Instead of turning a ledge on its side (let alone upside down), you’ll only be able to shift it on a slight angle, then watch the ball pick up speed as it descends what looks like a leveled slope. Even the monkey balls are a little too unresponsive; while even the slightest movements can influence the marbles of Kororinpa, these things require far more effort to control. Many of the crucial maneuvers, like turning and decelerating, can be sluggish at best. The awkward camera angles don’t help much, either; you’ll find that the view shifts erratically as you move the controller, making the navigation of some levels disorienting.
“We aren’t told exactly why this gilded piece of potassium is so important, but it sends AiAi and the rest of his little buddies into a fist-shaking rage.”Thankfully, you won’t have to endure such shoddy handling for long. If you’re tired of blazing through the eight worlds (and their fairly challenging bosses) that make up the Story Mode, you can give the Party Game Mode a try. Banana Blitz builds upon what its predecessors established: an extensive multiplayer comprised of simple mini-games. This title, however, goes the extra mile by featuring fifty competitions for your friends to try. With the WiiMote (and sometimes the Nunchuck attachment), you’ll be able to throw darts, blast alien forces out of a psychedelically colored atmosphere a la Space Invaders, board down a snowy slope, smack a racquetball around, and even ravage your friends in a bare-bones first-person shooting challenge. Unfortunately, several of these games make little good use of the controller; fans of Wii Sports will notice that their well crafted Boxing and Baseball games have been warped into pathetic flick-the-controller exercises. Other challenges, like Whack-A-Mole and Hovercraft Battle look great in concept, but the sluggish controls and awkward camera angles don’t do them any favors. Needless to say, this is a prime example of why quality trumps quantity.
But before throw your WiiMote across the room in a frothing rage and fling the Banana Blitz disc away like a shiny Frisbee, take some time to appreciate what the game is trying to present. Since your character will go screaming to its untimely death several dozen times, you’ll eventually memorize (if not utterly despise) every twist, turn, and bump in each level. Everything in the game, from the creaking ghostships to the massive pyramids and icy chutes, are comprised of blocky, pastel-colored shapes and rough edges. You’ll learn to appreciate how the green and red-checkered tiles clash with the grass to mark each jagged walkway, how the cardboard-looking palm trees can save your monkey from certain doom, and how the balls sport a dull gleam on their polished surfaces. Even if you come to hate AiAi and his other inept friends, the cheerful grins, cutesy outfits, and high-pitched voice acting might win your younger siblings over. The game may be a far cry from the ultra-realistic games currently out, but at least it’s easy on the eyes.
It’s not that Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz is a terrible game. Far from it. It uses the WiiMote ingeniously, allowing you to rotate entire levels to roll your ball around tough obstacles and cleverly designed areas. The problem is that such controls aren’t finely tuned enough for the task at hand; the sluggish response times, awkward camera angles, and limited movements kill much of the potential fun. You’ll likely get frustrated with these problems long before the Story Mode is completed. The game tries to make up for its shortcomings by including an expansive multiplayer mode, but many of the games it features are shallow and poorly crafted at best. But hey, at least it captures the same kind of style and setting seen in previous Super Monkey Ball games. That’s got to count for something.