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Super Monkey Ball Banana Rumble review - great balls of apes

Super Monkey Ball Banana Rumble delivers the thrills and spills once again, even if it takes a while for the challenge to truly kick in.

Screenshot for Super Monkey Ball Banana Rumble review showing AiAi and another monkey jumping up at the player

Our Verdict

Super Monkey Ball Banana Rumble is a fantastic new instalment, taking the visual style of Sega’s long-running series to new heights. It takes a while to dial up the challenge, but thanks to smart design, it’s welcoming to newcomers and Monkey Ball veterans alike.

There are few unadulterated joys in gaming like booting up a Super Monkey Ball game and just having at it. Not much matches the thrill of throwing those monkey balls down the course at blistering speeds in the sheer hope that you might somehow bounce through the goal, before giving up after several attempts and going slow and steady to clear the course. I love it, I’ve always loved it, and I always will love it. So, naturally, when my editor offered me the Super Monkey Ball Banana Rumble review, I willingly obliged.

The premise for the story mode of Banana Rumble is as cookie-cutter as it gets, which actually isn’t that much of a complaint. Just like Sega’s mainstay series Sonic, Super Monkey Ball games don’t really need riveting plots, it’s all about the gameplay and world design, but we’ll get more into that later. For now, let’s just say that Banana Rumble introduces a new character, sends you off on an adventure to collect some ancient artifacts, and sees you make more new friends as you eventually uncover the accidental antagonist. Yes sir, that certainly is a plot.

Now, onto the gameplay itself. The big change for Banana Rumble compared to previous entries is that there’s a – drumroll please – new gimmick! The gimmick in question is the spin dash, which means I’m going to have to bring up Sonic for a second time in this review. The spin dash is a lot like the blue blur’s spin dash, you hold down a button, aim, and blast off toward the target. It can be useful, but if you’re a Super Monkey Ball purist, as I’ve found out I am, you can opt to ignore it for nearly every level. My apologies to the developers, but I’m an old-school Monkey Baller, and you won’t change me.

Speaking of levels, I’ve got pretty mixed feelings on how I feel about those in Banana Rumble. They look great, I’ll say that much, from the desolate and dusty Stone Valley to the high-tech hi-jinks of Neon Arena and everything in between. Compared to the last series installment, Banana Mania, which arrived just three years ago, the stages in Banana Rumble look much cleaner and vibrant and cover a lot of visual styles while still feeling like part of the same game world.

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However, while the levels look great, they take a while to get challenging. I powered through the first eight of ten game worlds in about two hours, and while I had a decent enough time, I was soon craving a challenge. While the warm glow of nostalgia may distort the memories of my experience with the original GameCube games, and I was only seven when Super Monkey Ball 2 came out, I’m sure it was harder than this.

Yes, clearing stages is easy, but completing them? That’s a different question. Each stage has three sub-missions, which require you to pick up a certain amount of bananas, find the golden banana, and clear the course in a specific amount of time. You don’t have to do all three at once, now there’s some mean feat, but it’s a way for the game to push you to replay sections from early on. Each time you clear one of these sub-missions, you get some points, which you can then use to buy cosmetics for your AiAi, MeeMee, and the rest of the monkey gang.

These cosmetics are fun and all but aren’t enough of a driving incentive to go back and get points alone. This isn’t a big deal for me, as I’m one of those completionist freaks who gets their kicks from looking at a screen that reads ‘100%’, but I’m not sure if casual players are going to traipse back through some of the early levels for golden bananas and quick completion times. I can’t complain though, I wanted a challenge, and this is a way of getting one, even if it means lots of retreading the same levels.

Something I haven’t mentioned yet and that might play into how easy I was finding some of the levels is that the characters in Banana Rumble each have their own stats, rather than just being reskins of the same thing. I went with GonGon because he’s an absolute unit and my favorite of the original game, but his high weight and break stats make him more likely to stop still as you approach an edge or an obstacle.

Screenshot for Super Monkey Ball Banana Rumble review showing a monkey picking up a bunch of bananas

Still, I tried to replay some levels with a character that essentially inverts GonGon’s stats, Baby, and I think some of the early and mid-game stages still make things a bit too comfortable for the player. I know, I know, there’s a high likelihood that some kids are going to be playing and they should be able to continue through the game without getting stuck on a level. My answer to that is, isn’t that what the helper function is for?

Admittedly, I might be being a bit harsh here. The levels are solid fun, and Super Monkey Ball has a similar design problem to Pokémon in that it has to appease new, more than likely, young players as well as glutton-for-punishment veterans who want stages that push your precise inputs to the very limit. I appreciate that it’s a fine Monkey Ball to balance, but fortunately, things get a little trickier in the very late game, and once you complete the base game, oh boy, do things change up.

Screenshot for Super Monkey Ball Banana Rumble review showing a monkey heading toward the goal

Usually, I wouldn’t go too much into detail regarding post-game content in a review, but I think that this is something the Super Monkey Ball fans need to hear. The post-game is the intense and intimidating experience I said I was missing just a couple of paragraphs ago. After the credits roll, you get access to EX worlds, which are essentially the same worlds that contain the main game stages but with the difficulty factor dialed up significantly across a selection of new levels. For me, this is where the game truly began, and I was truly in my element.

Of the EX stages I’ve played, there’s not one I’ve easily cleared the first time, at least not without having to think about my strategy first. Here’s where changing your character really comes into play, with different monkeys suited to different stages. Not only am I getting the difficulty level I want here, but the stages look fantastic too, giving all the worlds from the main game a nighttime spin that adds to the experience. I could spend another five paragraphs listing my favorite levels and why here, but I’ll spare you that and just say that if you’re a fan of the series, don’t put this game down before you clear the main story.

Outside of the main adventure, Banana Rumble also features a battle mode. Unfortunately, I really can’t give you too much of an impression of the multiplayer experience as I didn’t get a chance to play it in my playtime, but even against CPU opponents, this game mode truly brings the chaos, especially with the maximum of 16 characters involved.

Screenshot for Super Monkey Ball Banana Rumble review showing the monkeys in battle mode

In battle mode, you can take on Goal Rush, which throws you into what is essentially a Monkey Ball pachinko or go for pure speed in the Race mode, among others. It’s a nice reprieve from the adventure, but the novelty wears off against CPU opponents before too long. I can see it being more fun with friends, though, and it’s definitely made the list for the next time I host a gaming night.

Performance-wise, Banana Rumble runs without any issues on Switch, which is as much as you might expect from an esteemed developer like Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio on seven-year-old hardware. I’ve really nothing to add here, even when you’re hurtling through a stage at over 100mph, there are no issues with lag or stuttering. It’s as smooth as you could ask for.

Before rounding off, it’s also worth mentioning that Banana Rumble has plenty of control settings, which should silence some of the community complaints regarding Super Monkey Ball titles. In my experience, it’s the closest the game has felt to the original GameCube titles in years, but with some fresh ideas thrown in for good measure, and I’m more than happy with that.

Screenshot for Super Monkey Ball Banana Rumble review showing a jungle based level

Ultimately, Super Monkey Ball Banana Rumble is more of the same, and if you’re a fan of the series, you’re likely to love it. The spin dash gimmick isn’t enough to drastically change the core experience, which is great news for series fans like me who just want another helping of what we’ve had since 2002, but it might be a little disappointing for those looking for Super Monkey innovation. Fortunately, I’m not, and Sega could bring out something similar bi-yearly and I’ll be there on release date. That’s not a threat, that’s a promise. Try me, Sega.

There you have it, our Super Monkey Ball Banana Rumble review for Nintendo Switch in advance of the June 25 release date. While you’re here, be sure to check out our thoughts on other recent Switch hits, including our Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door review, Paper Trail review, and Kamaeru: A Frog Refuge review.