Super Monkey Ball Banana Rumble Review – Go Bananas

Super Monkey Ball Banana Rumble embodies what makes the series so endearing in its core gameplay, despite fumbling in other places.

Posted By | On 03rd, Jul. 2024

Super Monkey Ball Banana Rumble Review – Go Bananas

When you look back on the pre- and post-Dreamcast days, the sheer variety and innovation in Sega’s franchises is something to behold. Yet, so many franchises like Panzer Dragoon, Shinobi, Virtual-On, Ecco the Dolphin, Fighting Vipers, Crazy Taxi and, of course, Jet Set Radio have faded into obscurity. That will change with some titles in the coming years, but it’s also impressive how Super Monkey Ball has endured all this time despite remaining on the back foot.

The series struggled to find its footing after the success of the first three games. However, Like a Dragon developer Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio has helmed development from Banana Blitz HD onwards, and the future looks more hopeful. Super Monkey Ball Banana Rumble may not break the mold with the fundamental gameplay loop, but it offers some solid platforming and an overall well-rounded package despite some shortcomings.

"Super Monkey Ball has always been about the titular monkeys in balls (shocking, I know) – rolling around, sometimes at the speed of sound, and collecting as many bananas as possible before reaching the goal."

One such area is the narrative in Adventure Mode, the single-player campaign. AiAi and his friends are back on another adventure, exploring various worlds to locate the Legendary Banana. There are some rivals here and there, indications that more is going on than meets the eye, etc., but the story is pure fluff. Since it’s meant to connect world A to world B and repeat, it’s fitting enough, and the low stakes aren’t necessarily bad.

That streamlined approach applies to the controls as well. Super Monkey Ball has always been about the titular monkeys in balls (shocking, I know) – rolling around, sometimes at the speed of sound, and collecting as many bananas as possible before reaching the goal. Banana Rumble doesn’t deviate from this, instead adding a new spin dash for that extra bit of acceleration.

Using it on ramps to access shortcuts or even to launch off hills is an option – most times, you’ll be deftly navigating a monkey across fixed paths, trying not to fall off, as is tradition. That thin line between “easy to get into” and “difficult to master” is threaded pretty well, even if the physics could feel off occasionally.

The controls also take a bit of getting used to in responsiveness, becoming manageable with more practice. Though I found the Spin Dash more situational than rudimentary, at least in single-player, it’s still a good fit for the overall experience. When you’re barreling down a series of slopes, being able to immediately change directions feels good, even if it’s easier said than done.

Super Monkey Ball Banana Rumble_03

"Also, despite the relatively short length of each stage, there’s still impetus to do better. To beat your previous time and collect more bananas for a higher score."

Adventure Mode is sizable, with some 200 stages of tilt-and-tumble action. It starts innocently enough on the Banana Farm as you roll a few meters to the goal, easily beating the time limit. Things quickly kick up a notch when you’re navigating tight walkways, attempting to collect as many bananas as possible without falling off. Some stages have you escaping mazes and sometimes leaping over faster due to the momentum and tilting.

As manifold as the stages can be and even with some passing in the blink of an eye or feeling gimmicky, RGG Studio does a pretty good job of keeping things varied. Navigating moving sections of clocks to reach the goal, which has a minute and hour hand that can deviously mess you up in the end? An entire stage of pits that mimics an egg carton? It’s all here, with a thankfully cooperative camera that offers enough viewing space and doesn’t get stuck in the environment. The difficulty slowly but surely ramps up as you progress, feeling natural without any uncomfortable spikes.

Also, despite the relatively short length of each, there’s still impetus to do better. To beat your previous time and collect more bananas for a higher score. Various challenges and missions are available, tracking your progress throughout, and you can unlock new cosmetics and characters to purchase from the in-game store. The cosmetics don’t affect gameplay, as expected, but the degree of customization is adequate.

Each character has unique stats in speed, braking, weight and spin. I didn’t feel any earth-shattering distinctions between AiAi, who has more speed, and GonGon, who offers more control (like differing abilities or play styles). Nevertheless, the choice is appreciated, especially since some can have different charging and timing on their Spin Dashes.

Super Monkey Ball Banana Rumble_02

"Matchmaking is fairly quick for now, and while its longevity is up for debate given the depth, Battle Mode is a decent detour."

Outside of Adventure Mode and Time Attack (which unlocks after completing a world), there’s local and online play in Battle Mode. The latter is distinctly different, offering a series of game modes and types for up to 16 players. These range from dashing down a slope and passing through different numbered goalposts, each contributing to your team’s score.

You also have a race, navigating obstacles and platforms while dropping items like bananas to slow the opposition. Heck, you even have Tag-style mode, where players must pass bombs back and forth, with the possessors going boom when the time runs out. The Spin Dash really comes into its own here, as you dash into other players and momentarily stun them on impact.

Matchmaking is fairly quick for now, and while its longevity is up for debate given the depth, Battle Mode is a decent detour. The only issue is the drop in frame rate, which makes sense since it accommodates 16 players at a time. Thankfully, this doesn’t affect the responsiveness – you’ll still be fumbling around with the rest. The lion’s share of the gameplay is in the single-player, though, especially with tougher stages unlocking as you finish the story. However, given that Battle Mode has a Battle Pass, it may see some updates and new stages in the long term. Time will tell, as always.

In terms of presentation, Super Monkey Ball Banana Rumble is surprisingly good. Adventure Mode stages are detailed and unique, while the animations and performance are on point throughout. It’s a testament to the levels that they offer enough detail and pop without affecting visibility or making you feel lost, especially if one plays in Handheld Mode.

Super Monkey Ball Banana Rumble

"It doesn’t quite reach the peaks of its legendary predecessors and may fall under the radar for most, but there’s hope that Sega continues to refine and improve on what’s here while appealing to a new generation of players."

Sadly, the same can’t be said of the music. As happy and earnest as it sounds, the tracks are ultimately forgettable, with not a single one standing out. Their one saving grace is that they aren’t annoying and won’t wear on you with multiple retries. Having the game constantly asking if I want to activate Helper features after a few falls in each stage can get annoying.

At its very best, this is a homecoming for fans and perhaps the best that the series has seen in years. From the movement and the level design to the aesthetics and sheer amount of content, it feels like RGG Studio has mostly captured what makes the series work. Battle Mode feels more like a distraction than a multiplayer component you can sink dozens of hours into. Nevertheless, it can be enjoyable in short bursts, even if its battle royale-esque trappings won’t appeal to everyone.

Whether you’re blazing through Adventure Mode and knocking out stages, refining your times and attempting to beat Time Attack, clearing up challenges or just hopping online for competitive chaos, Super Monkey Ball Banana Rumble is a fun time. It doesn’t quite reach the peaks of its legendary predecessors and may fall under the radar for most, but there’s hope that Sega continues to refine and improve on what’s here while appealing to a new generation of players.

This game was reviewed on Nintendo Switch.


THE GOOD

Meaty Adventure Mode with 200 stages, Time Attack and additional missions to complete. Each stage feels well-designed and involving. New Spin Dash mechanic adds a speedy twist on top of the precision platforming. Multiplayer is solid with its unique modes and objectives.

THE BAD

Some odd physics every now and again. Music is completely forgettable and the story is nonexistent. Though it serves as a decent diversion, multiplayer doesn't have much depth to it. Performance drops while playing online.

Final Verdict:
GOOD
The glory days of Super Monkey Ball may be far behind, but Banana Rumble is a new beginning. Tight stage design, responsive controls and an appealing aesthetic make it one of the series' best in years.
A copy of this game was provided by Developer/Publisher/Distributor/PR Agency for review purposes. Click here to know more about our Reviews Policy.

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