It seems to have become a right of passage for modern gaming formats that somewhere in their infancy, typically the first year of launch, they will receive a Super Monkey Ball outing of some kind. Long past the dizzy heights achieved by Super Monkey Ball 2 on the GameCube, every successive iteration has added more content and yet delivered less rewarding gameplay. Here on PlayStation Vita the hope is that Super Monkey Ball: Banana Splitz can buck the trend.
Built from the ground-up for Sony Computer Entertainment’s new handheld platform, so SEGA protest in their marketing bumf, Super Monkey Ball: Banana Splitz delivers the same infusion of bright colours and quirky humour that the series is famous for. This is as light-hearted an endeavour as you could possibly wish for – and rightfully so – but such a façade is deceiving. Super Monkey Ball: Banana Splitz is as demanding a gameplay experience as the best the series has offered, taxing the player with dexterity challenges that leave little room for error.
Following the now traditional formula of presenting a selection of difficulty settings each containing their own series of worlds that in turn play host to a number of different levels, players must work their way through each world in one sitting or face returning to the start. A limited number of live and continues ensure that this challenge has genuine meaning, and that players are aware that too many failures will result in facing some of the tougher levels once again.
So far so Super Monkey Ball, and given the presentations offered by the Wii and mobile editions, Super Monkey Ball: Banana Splitz’s dual control options aren’t exactly unique. The PlayStation Vita’s diminutive analog stick could never hold a candle to the GameCube’s industry leader, but nonetheless it does provide a near-perfect connection between motion and on-screen feedback. Rarely has Super Monkey Ball felt as comfortable on a portable device as it does on PlayStation Vita. That being said, the motion control aspect of Super Monkey Ball: Banana Splitz is best ignored altogether. It adds very little to the experience and many of the levels were clearly not designed for the lack of precision in detection, leaving the player with a greater challenge for no other reason than obtrusive hardware implementation.
Alongside the traditional Super Monkey Ball gameplay comes the now equally standard assortment of mini-games. Favourites such as Monkey Target and Monkey Bowling return, and are on reasonable form, but once again these high quality productions are accompanied by a selection of less enjoyable designs. Love Maze is arguably the most interesting new addition, guiding two monkeys along pathways from a top-down viewpoint while ensuring that they remain within close proximity to one another, but even this is little more than an accompaniment to the main gameplay component rather than a reason in itself to buy Super Monkey Ball: Banana Splitz.
The final aspect of Super Monkey Ball: Banana Splitz worthy of note for the solo player is the Edit mode. Simply by taking a picture and shaking the console Super Monkey Ball: Banana Splitz will generate a level based upon your image. Exactly in what way the image taken affects the design is not known – throughout Electronic Theatre’s many attempts the resulting levels appeared to be entirely random with no relation to the pictures taken whatsoever – but nonetheless this option can expand the life of Super Monkey Ball: Banana Splitz simply by offering an endless supply of new levels of varying difficulty. What’s more, created levels can be shared online, further adding to the wealth of content available to PlayStation Vita gamers.
Of course, multiplayer gameplay is one of the areas that Super Monkey Ball has excelled at over the years, and Super Monkey Ball: Banana Splitz is no different. Even the weakest of the eight included mini-games become reasonably enjoyable – if only for a short while – when adding additional players and the inclusion of single-system options is a masterstroke. It’s never going to rival more comprehensive multiplayer titles, but as an aide to a short journey on public transport or whiling away some idle downtime in a public place Super Monkey Ball: Banana Splitz fits the bill perfectly; enjoyable yet utterly forgettable videogaming.
Super Monkey Ball: Banana Splitz is a mixed bag visually, on the one hand providing the lovingly crafted madcap world in a competent fashion but then ignoring the power of the PlayStation Vita in that of the stuttering incidental animation. The water effects used in the Monkey Flight mini-game are nothing short of disgraceful, given how key a part of the experience this blanket of blue is, and the level design rarely steps out of its comfort zone. The same can be said of the soundtrack, never breaking away from series tradition long enough to be noteworthy.
So Super Monkey Ball: Banana Splitz is a complicated PlayStation Vita experience then, on the one hand providing one of the best handheld outings the series has ever seen and on the other ignoring many of the rules which once made the series so great. Exactly what SEGA hopes to achieve with the now formulaic design of Super Monkey Ball is not known, but if it’s familiarity across devices than Super Monkey Ball: Banana Splitz fulfils its mission objective perfectly. There’s plenty of Super Monkey Ball fun to be had in Super Monkey Ball: Banana Splitz, but the candy coating isn’t as fresh as it once was.