Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Super Monkey Ball: Banana Splitz (Vita) Review

For our fourth review for this PlayStation Vita-centric month of reviews, we have a series that has been down in quality for some time now. Still, we cannot help by look back and hold fond memories to better times for the series. This Vita exclusive, Super Monkey Ball: Banana Splitz, hopes to greatly improve the series' recent quality. Does it do it? Phil has the answer.

By No Means the Top Banana

Two of my favorite GameCube games from the system came from the now defunct Amusement Vision: Super Monkey Ball and its sequel, Super Monkey Ball 2. The two games had just enough challenge and creativity to make an impact and have an admirable amount of sales. However, over the past decade, the Super Monkey Ball series has seen one average to mediocre game after another. That said, Sega is at it once again with Super Monkey Ball: Banana Splitz, a PlayStation Vita exclusive entry in the franchise. While this entry in the series is closer in quality to the GameCube originals than titles like Super Monkey Ball 3D and Super Monkey Ball: Touch & Roll, Banana Splitz still doesn't reach greatness.

Aiai is frightened. He's obviously
having an out-of-body experience.
Super Monkey Ball: Banana Splitz's main mode, just like every other Super Monkey Ball game, is the Challenge mode. Here you guide your monkey in a ball through various stages, evading obstacles, avoiding falling off the stage, collecting bananas, and reaching the goal gate before time runs out. 

The beginner stages introduce the basic gameplay concepts of Banana Splitz rather well. Sure, these levels can seem insultingly easy, but they're a good refresher for those who are a bit rusty or new to the Super Monkey Ball series. Most of these stages have an abundance of walls, few places to fall off, and a lot of bananas to give players easy 1UP's, gained after collecting 30 bananas.

The introductory stages present the
player with plenty of protective walls.
Then once the beginner stages are completed, you can move onto the normal stages. Instead of just ten stages to trek through, there are now thirty. There's less in the way of walls to save your rolling monkey ball from falling, more moving platforms, pinball-like bumpers, and tricky, sometimes narrower paths for your monkey to take. 

The normal stages require
a bit more skill to complete.
What comes after normal are the advanced stages. These are made up of fifty total levels, as well as one ridiculous jump in difficulty between the stages of normal and the stages of advanced. There's a lot of trial and error involved, there's more than enough places where you will lose lives on a swift basis, and there's plenty of unforgiving level design to make you clench your teeth and want to chuck your Vita across the room.

This mode would be great with unlimited continues, right? You'd think since you go from thirty average in difficulty levels to fifty nightmarish levels in comparison, that you'd get a reprieve. Unfortunately, you only earn the ability to have unlimited continues after you beat advanced mode. Yes, this means you must complete all fifty arduous stages of advanced with a set amount of lives and continues, all of which can be spent through rather quickly. It's a very puzzling design choice that means a lot of players will most likely be stuck in the advanced stages and never see the rest of the stages Super Monkey Ball: Banana Splitz has to offer.

A diet purely of bananas can't be that
healthy for you, can it, little monkey?
In order to control your monkey's escapades across various stages, you can opt to use the left analog stick or go bold with the gyro controls of the Vita. The latter is way too underdeveloped to be relied upon, especially in later levels. When you have to tilt the Vita towards you to slow down, the screen sort of makes it challenging to see what's happening on the screen, unless you're a contortionist. 

Furthermore, the promisingly titled Edit Mode is another disappointment in Banana Splitz. One would imagine creating their own Monkey Ball stages manually, making exactly what they want. Instead, what you get is a mode where you take a picture of an object (and even now I doubt taking a picture even matters), and then shaking the Vita system to create a random, cookie-cutter stage that is as basic and boring as vanilla ice cream. 

Push your creativity to the limi--
actually, push it to the side.
Outside of the typical Monkey Ball challenges, Banana Splitz comes with a party mode, available for solo runs against the computer or battles with other players. A returning favorite in Monkey Target, where the goal is to take your flying monkey ball and land it on a target with multiple areas worth varying amounts of points, is present and accounted for in Banana Splitz, and it's one of the better mini-games in this package.

Another enjoyable mode includes Battle Billiards, a four player mode where opponents take turns hitting their colored balls into others in order to try to hit them into holes for points. There's also a Love Maze game with the goal of controlling two monkeys through an obstacle course, trying to keep the romantic chain between the two from breaking apart. There's also bowling, a number game where you tap a bunch of rolling balls in order, and a game where you control a ball and try to enter into holes, going for bingo in order to score points.

This is a much flashier setting for a
bingo game than a church rec room.
There is one mini-game, however, that is absolute garbage. This is known as Monkey Rodeo. It has you using the back touch pad of the Vita to guide a horse-riding monkey around an enclosed arena, gathering bananas. These controls are close enough to call them broken.  

Whoever thought this control scheme was
a good idea deserves to choke on a monkey ball.
Banana Splitz by no means pushes the Vita hardware, but the game looks and runs nicely all the same. There's nothing that really repulses the eyes in the game. Everything is suitably colorful, and the different animations of Aiai and friends are remarkably charming. The music is hit or miss. There's really nothing I can remember after extended sessions of playing Banana Splitz. That said, the music isn't grating either, so at least there's that.

With Super Monkey Ball: Banana Splitz, Sega edges the closest it has been in a long time in resembling the glory days of the Super Monkey Ball franchise. That notwithstanding, a ridiculous and highly frustrating leap in difficulty between the normal and advanced stages makes it hard to recommend this game to everyone. Despite its welcoming visual style and wackiness, Super Monkey Ball: Banana Splitz is a Monkey Ball journey for experts only. For most, the majority of stages will never be seen because the game is just too hard and a lot of skill and a little luck is required. Still, while Super Monkey Ball: Banana Splitz slips on a proverbial banana peel and stumbles a little bit, it by no means falls flat on its face.

[SPC Says: 6.5/10]

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