Super Monkey Ball is a series that started out holding such promise, but – after the first few entries unveiled strong ideas – everything slowly began to run out of steam as those monkeys began to suffocate inside those perspex balls. The last handheld entry from the series was the lacking Super Monkey Ball 3D that had none of the challenging levels that made the series great. Thankfully with the arrival of Super Monkey Ball: Banana Splitz on PlayStation Vita, Sega have brought back the challenge. It’s unfortunate then that it’s not exactly up there with the best in the series.
The central premise of Monkey Ball has always been a crushingly simple one, despite how hard it is to achieve. Roll your way through a puzzle maze of narrow causeways, moving blocks and edgeless floating levels while collecting bananas on your way to the goal. It sounds easy, but in reality it’s far from that. In Banana Splitz the starting levels are simple and really only serve to ease you into the game. The later levels ramp up the difficulty, placing you in mazes where one false move sees you falling off the side in a rather frustrating, yet deserved, death. This frustration is, however, something that you’ll grow to love about the series if you don’t already. It’s great to see Sega bringing back the challenge that was lacking from the 3DS release.
For those who can’t hack the immense difficulty that gets thrown your way, you’ll be happy to know that there are three different difficulty modes to enjoy – although you’ll have to finish them all to truly complete the game. Beginner is the easiest, Normal provides a bit of a challenge, and Advanced is really where the difficulty arises – playing out like classic Monkey Ball. Once you’ve finished up with the classic action there’s the staple selection of mini-games for you to enjoy, such as Monkey Bowling and Monkey Target. Unfortunately Monkey Target isn’t as good as past versions, but it’s still a great mini-game, and quite possibly some of the most fun you’ll have in Banana Splitz.
Visually this is one rather impressive game. The Vita really manages to make the stages shine and thanks to its power, it really looks as good – if not better 0 than previous versions of Monkey Ball. A neat feature is a level creation mode that uses the Vita’s camera to capture objects for you to play across. Sometimes this doesn’t work so well, with near unplayable levels, but when it does it’s great fun to mess around with and create challenging levels upon. There’s also an online multiplayer if you’re so inclined to go online and face off against others. It’s nothing overly special – hence it’s fleeting mention – but it’s nice that Sega have bothered to include it.
Peculiarly, one of the most frustrating things in Banana Splitz are the menus. Everything has to be controlled by touch, therefore leading you to think that everything runs smoothly and quickly; however that isn’t the case. They’re clunky and really look far from appealing. In all honestly they’re just downright messy. It also seems to take a long time to load levels and games – which seems to be a problem that plagues the PS Vita across most of its games. You can also use the gimmickry of the PS Vita’s Sixaxis system to play Banana Splitz but it isn’t something I’d recommend you do – it’s already hard enough to keep your monkey on course with the analogue sticks. You’re welcome to try it, but I assure you, you’ll go mad due to how sensitive it is.
Banana Splitz is definitely a step in the right direction for the Super Monkey Ball series as it reigns in the loose ends and creates a title worthy of the GameCube era. There’s plenty to keep you occupied and thanks to the difficulty it doesn’t get tiring quickly like Super Monkey Ball 3D did. This may not be the best Super Monkey Ball title ever made, but it’s a valiant effort and a wonderful handheld experience. Hopefully it’s a sign that more is to come.
Audio/Visuals – 3/5: Not the best looker ever but it’s still good looking enough on the Vita.
Gameplay – 3/5: Classic Super Monkey Ball: challenging just like fans would want it to be. Good fun, sometimes frustrating, and maybe too difficult for newcomers at times.
Innovation – 2/5: Nothing drastically new bar a few Vita specific features that are fun to fool around with.
Value – 4/5: A decent amount of levels to play through, with fun mini games, and an online mode and the level creator to try out. There’s actually quite a bit stuck in here.
Final Score: 3/5