Tuesday, July 2, 2024

Super Monkey Ball: Banana Rumble (NSW) Review

We're not slowing any signs of slowing down here at SuperPhillip Central. A new review is here for a relatively new game, too. Super Monkey Ball: Banana Rumble rolled exclusively onto the Nintendo Switch last Tuesday. Here is the SPC review!

Rollin', Rollin', Rollin'. Keep those monkeys rollin'!

It's been--what--ten years since a wholly original Super Monkey Ball game graced our presence. Can you believe that? After the rather excellent Super Monkey Ball: Banana Mania in 2021, which compiled stages from Super Monkey Ball 1, 2, and Deluxe into one package, Monkey Ball fans like myself have been feverishly hoping, anticipating, waiting, and praying with paws together for SEGA to roll out a new game. Now, Super Monkey Ball: Banana Rumble is here, and it features hundreds of brand-new stages, an all-new multiplayer mode, and a fresh mechanic to, well, freshen the rolling action up. Does all of this set up Super Monkey Ball: Banana Rumble for a freshly ripe experience, or is it rotten from the inside out?

Super Monkey Ball's main claim to gameplay fame as a series is its stage-tilting action to move your monkey in a ball through hundreds of progressively more difficult stages. The goal is to reach the end of each stage without falling off (or as the announcer loves to harp, "Fall OUT"), and it's honestly a literal goal too, as your ball needs to cut through the tape of the orange, circular goal to clear the stage successfully. You'll get lots of moments where you "kiss" the goal, only to bang off the edge of it and fall out, or worse yet, run out of time in a stage because you were too careful and cautious about falling off! Oh, it happens far too often... at least for me!

AiAi and the Super Monkey Ball gang are back, and this time... it's still not personal!

There are ten initial worlds in Banana Rumble (with more to unlock after the fact), taking players through an abundance of challenges and locales, from the cute and cozy Banana Farm that eases players through their pacing to get their footing--or rather, rolling into the game to later worlds that really dial up the difficulty considerably to almost fiendish levels, Banana Rumble's Adventure Mode is about a 4-6 hour affair. That's if you're just rolling through stages trying to clear each stage. This mode can also be played locally with up to four players via split-screen, offering the ability for all players to roll around stages at the same time. If just one player clears the stage, all players do. You can also have collisions with other balls off or, if you like some added chaos and carnage, you can have them on, too. Mwahaha!

Colorful worlds abound and await in Super Monkey Ball: Banana Rumble!

Banana Rumble also arrives with its own story in its Adventure Mode, introducing various new characters to go along the familiar and trusted Monkey Ball crew of AiAi, MeeMee, Baby, GonGon, and others. It features cute, animated, voiced (in monkey gibberish, I do believe) cutscenes following the story of AiAi and friends meeting a mysterious monkey named Palette, who searches for her missing Papa. AiAi and pals agree to help by finding the Legendary Banana treasure which Palette says will help in searching for her father. Thus, the motivation to roll through 100 stages commences! Well, that outside of the good times and fun the Super Monkey Ball games generally provide!

This time around, this latest installment of Super Monkey Ball takes a new mechanic out for a spin--and quite literally, too. It essentially borrows a chapter out of Sonic the Hedgehog's playbook--a fellow SEGA all-star--with the spin dash. Unlike past Super Monkey Ball games implemented multiple new game mechanics that served as a banana-split to the fanbase in popularity--whether that's motion control, touch controls, the ability to jump, or heaven forbid, Banana Blitz's boss battles--Banana Rumble's spin dash works wonderfully and feels like a natural evolution of the series' gameplay. Dare I say, it's going to be a bit difficult to return to past or future games in the franchise without this mechanic. I love it so much. Mere gimmick, this ain't.

Depending on how long you hold the B button as well as which direction you hold the left stick,
these factors determine how fast and how far of a speed burst courtesy of the spin dash your monkey will get.

Performed by holding down the B button and then letting go of it whilst pointing the analog stick forward, the spin dash propels your monkey of choice in their ball forward with a sudden burst of speed. This helps in charging up ramps without worrying about losing momentum, great for lipping off ramps and short edges of stages, and most interestingly, allows for some phenomenal speed run opportunities for most stages. 

Sure, a lot of the time the speed run opportunities boil down to tremendous trial and error and even some luck with spin dashing into a corner or ledge to "jump" and skip a large portion of stage or even hop all the way to the goal, but it's positively thrilling and rewarding when you accomplish such a feat. It's absolutely awesome to rush your way through a stage without doing it the "intended way".

Shortcut and skip opportunities alike are present for proficient spin dashing players.

I put "intended way" in quotes because each stage presents players with three missions apiece to optionally complete. The missions are always the same requirements, just varying in the amount one needs to reach to accomplish them. For instance, as it pertains to speed running and clearing a stage the unintended way, there is a mission to complete a stage within a usually strict time limit. Generally, most stages require a skip via a well-placed spin dash or series of spin dashes to meet and beat these times. The other two missions in each stage feature finding, collecting, and reaching the goal with a Golden Banana, and grabbing a certain amount of bananas within a stage. 

Those are the stage missions, at the very least. There are also various in-game missions outside of stages that can be completed, too. These missions award points that are the currency to be used in the in-game shop. Here, you can purchase different clothing, balls, gear, animations, and more with the points you earn from completed missions. Needless to say, there is a LOT of content even in the single-player mode to be found in Super Monkey Ball: Banana Rumble.

Camera got you flustered? Press the right shoulder button to get it centered back behind
your monkey in a snap! It's a lovely quality of life addition!

But, what of the multiplayer component within Banana Rumble? While this iteration of Super Monkey Ball lacks the familiar and celebrated party games of past entries (sorry, friends, Monkey Target is nowhere to be found here), what does take their place is that of battles pitting you against 15 other players. Battling with randoms mostly consists of one or two other real players and a bunch of other bots, but I'm happy at least that bots are an option to make the matches less empty. At any rate, the online matches switch between different modes at random, throwing you back to an empty waiting room of sorts where you can roll around for fun and while you wait for the next match to fill up. Once it does, you're thrown into a match.

Matches are relatively short affairs depending on the mode chosen. Really, you can find yourself waiting in the lobby longer than you actually play a match. That said, matches feature races from point-to-point along a perilous sky high road with multiple twists, turns, and obstacles to them; there are matches where you attempt to destroy robots for points; matches consisting of grabbing the most bananas; matches that are like a Hot Potato, keep-away game with bombs, where the players who remain holding a bomb by the end of one of five rounds don't earn points while the players who successfully passed off their bombs to other players or avoided getting a bomb altogether earn points; and finally, a match type where two teams of eight players apiece claim goals for points with the harder to reach goals awarding more points than those that easier to roll through.

These match types can all be played offline with bots solely (and locally as well), but there is an incentive to play online at least once per day. You get a lucky ticket each day for participating in an online match, which rewards you with a rare clothing item or gear for your Monkey Ball. There are seasons with exclusive unlockable gear that can be earned through merely playing online, as well. There's hardly a grind to speak of, too, and no further real world money must be paid to complete the season pass, as it were.

Doctor, Doctor, give me the news. I got a bad case of dizziness from all this rambunctious rolling!

I mentioned Super Monkey Ball: Banana Mania (the 2021 game) back near the beginning of this review. While that game was entertaining as all get out, it did have one issue that many veterans of the Super Monkey Ball franchise held a grievance with. That was that the physics weren't 1:1 to the classic Monkey Ball games from the GameCube originals. It is my pleasure to alleviate any concerns that the physics in Banana Rumble resemble Banana Mania's relatively "off" feel of rolling your monkey about. Instead, Banana Rumble feels like the closest we've gotten to the originals without actually BEING the originals. A pleasant surprise, but a welcomed one.

Super Monkey Ball: Banana Rumble delivers an exhilarating package all in all. It features the most consistency of any Monkey Ball game since 1 & 2 back in the early 2000s. A long time to wait, for sure, for consistency. Everything from the stage design, to the challenge level, to the amount of content to sink one's teeth into like a delicious banana, to the all-new spin dash make for a terrific entry in the series. The latter of which is such a great inclusion for both gameplay and speed-running (or is it speed-rolling?) purposes. I can't imagine moving forward with the Super Monkey Ball series and not seeing the spin dash return. That's how game-changing and elevating it is. While the unsteady framerate of Banana Rumble is less than stellar (in and out of multiplayer, even), and said multiplayer modes are a bit lesser than their old school counterparts (but still fun--don't get me wrong), Super Monkey Ball: Banana Rumble for all intents and purposes is Super Monkey Ball 3 in everything but name only. I can think of no greater compliment!

[SPC Says: B+]

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