Super Monkey Ball Banana Blitz HD

Sega is bringing back Super Monkey Ball with a port of Banana Blitz to current consoles and PC - the original was the last game in the series to be directed by Nagoshi. I’m both excited and wary about this at the same time for reasons I’ll get on to, but for now here’s some details:

Gameplay trailer:


Interview with Shirosaki Masao (director and producer of the port) and Nagoshi Toshihiro (who was the original producer and director of the Wii game):

Banana Blitz is not quite as perfectly pitched as the original arcade and GameCube game, but it reinvigorated the series with a great new look, a new jump mechanic that did more than enough to justify itself, and a novel and robust new control scheme. Most importantly, it also brought with it a return to skill-based, focused level design after the inventive but flawed Super Monkey Ball 2 featured a handful of evil luck-based stages (Launchers was probably the worst offender there!).

I still dig out my launch day copy every now and again because it’s still just so irresistible to play today. Tilting your wrist to move the board makes every level feel like an extension of your body, and its energetic music is very inviting. I’ve also yet to fully complete the game - I’ve been playing bits of world 9 on and off for the past decade and I finally cleared it this year. Basically, it represents the best of third party Wii titles in the sense that it saw a talented developer (Amusement Vision) execute well on a unique concept that could only feel right with the Wii remote.

It’s that uniqueness which I’m worried will be lost in the port. This week Sega’s press release states that “motion controls from the original Banana Blitz have been removed in favor of tightened analog controls, making it a breeze to jump in and start rolling through the game’s 100 levels.”, for instance. The original game was very much designed around the different precision you get from tilting your wrist - hence the addition of the jump mechanic. The ability to jump didn’t just add verticality to the level designs, the quick nature and momentum of jumps are more controllable with tilt controls (see Excite Truck too) than analogue stick controls. Jumping also let players correct sloppy tilt controls since you could ‘flick’ your character back on to the board if they were just about to roll off.

So I’m left wondering how it’ll feel to play with the analogue sticks of current systems. I’m sure it’s still playable, but it certainly won’t feel the same. I think even if they added support for gyro controls on the DS4 or Joy-Con controllers it wouldn’t feel quite right due to the very different profiles of both controllers relative to the larger Wiimote.

The visuals also somehow look less consistent than they did on Wii, where Banana Blitz was already a handsome game:

I have a feeling this port will be a bit workmanlike. There are many little details about the original which set it apart from other games, for instance the menus made you twist your wrist to select things - and that’s now being replaced by something a lot more derivative:

The credits sequence will also presumably need a rethink, because it was originally designed specifically around pointer controls, where the further you point away from your character, the faster they’ll accelerate:

What do you think? Maybe I just hold this game a little too close to my heart - in which case the inevitable changes in the way it’s presented and plays may not be issues.

I suspect given the modern reputation of Wii motion controls this version will be declared superior. I just hope it holds up as well as it does on its original format after the jump.

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I’ve only ever played the original GameCube title so I’m looking forward to this. The fact that this is a Nagoshi title just makes me want it that much more. I can’t wait.

You’re in for a treat! The mini games were outsourced to Japanese developer Bauhaus Entertainment - presumably so the game made it to launch - but the single player is second best in the series.

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Why no Monkey Ball 1 and 2? They’re the peak in both game content and popularity.

Looks like you sold me on the original Wii version to be honest. I’m going to pick that one up and ignore the port.

The first SMB on GCN is a favorite of mine.

Definitely worth doing. Banana Blitz feels like a Sega game you’d play at the arcade, right down to how the menus are designed around the unique input device that is the Wii remote.

I’m guessing they’d find it harder to repackage Banana Blitz if they went for those first. They really should have put all three in one pack though. Just realised that the Switch supporting GameCube controllers for Smash means there wouldn’t be any trade-offs in the GC ports either!

I do find the reception to Banana Blitz puzzling - it was pretty well received when it came out, but the way people online speak about it today is something else. I’ve seen several comments state how it’s the worst in the series (as if Monkey Ball Adventure, Step and Roll, Touch 'n Roll, 3D, the iOS games and Banana Splitz didn’t exist) when it’s really not.

Maybe it’s down to motion controls and discontent that this is being picked over the first two. I worry Sega is going to see the sales for this remake and be dissuaded from following up on it if the reception to the announcement is any indication of performance on the market.

I think the mishandling of the series was an issue. SMB1 and 2 were smash hits on Gamecube. But then Sega decided despite having huge hits on it they hated the Gamecube.

The next games in the series were on
GBA
N-Gage
PS2/Xbox
PS2/PSP/Gamecube (Adventure)

They really needed Monkey Ball 3 on Gamecube before any of that crap. Motion controls are fine too, but I think people just wanted another normal Super Monkey Ball using Nintendo’s best in industry analogue sticks.

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Sega was pretty dumb in general after Dreamcast. They honestly should have just gone whole hog with Gamecube and made that the Nintendo/Sega system. It would have made every one of those games from that era just that much bigger than they were. Instead they let the developers make the decisions and because of that spread themselves out away from what people did like about Dreamcast in the first place… the consistency of great Sega software being available in one place.

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Pretty much. Even if they just did the most obvious choice and went with PS2. Sega fans got screwed, because you had to buy three consoles to get sequels to all of Jet Set, Sonic, Monkey Ball, Shenmue, Panzer Dragoon etc.

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Right! It was just so stupid. I will never understand it. Your fans all bought the Dreamcast for your games. Those people should have been the top priority. Pick one system and put everything on there. Imagine Jet Set on Gamecube alongisde Shenmue, Shinobi, Panzer… it would have made that the system most aligned with the greatness of what came before given you were seated alongside your old rival Nintendo who you were most compared to.

The sales of Sonic on Gamecube should have been enough to convince them they needed to be on there, especially since nothing else they did on other platforms performed anywhere near as well.

I won’t complain too hard… one of my top five games of all time came from all this. F-Zero GX.

They weren’t really the only company to make that mistake around that time, spreading themselves out over multiple systems with various exclusives. Bunch of places seemed to not know how things would shake out and just tossed stuff at every wall. And honestly out of all the shitty fuck ups that Sega made that is kind of low on the list.

Is it though?

The other stuff people nail them for… 32X, early Saturn launch, ending Saturn support too early, and even leaving so many Saturn games in Japan, were not as bad for me. I owned a 32X and had a lot of fun with the device even if I didn’t get many games for it. What they did release was pretty darn good. I bought a Saturn on surprise launch day, so again, unaffected. Japan Saturn was successful where US Saturn was just not unfortunately, so leaving so many games over there is understandable, even if I believe they could have used that to their advantage at the time.

There was some spreading around of games in the PS2-era. Capcom and Konami did it too of course. It was a product of the times when the war was really raging between four (and then suddenly three) console makers. Everyone was trying to decide how to get maximum sales and money was being paid for exclusives too. For me, it was their biggest mistake though. They clearly had underestimated how much people wanted Sega games on anything other than Nintendo hardware. That was the era of “kiddy” Nintendo though, so I’m sure that factored in.

I’m sure all three manufacturers were bidding for Sega’s support which, if you think about it, probably was most lucrative for Sega to do on a game by game basis.

It’s just a bummer that Amusement Vision and Smilebit didn’t survive the generation. They were the best thing about Sega at the time and were dissolved back into the company to make Yakuza games which, no offense, just doesn’t compare to the likes of Panzer Dragoon Orta, F-Zero GX, SMB 1 and 2, JSRF, etc.

I know Yakuza is a fan favorite, but they just don’t scratch that same Sega arcade itch that those other games did.

See, the thing is, even if you enjoyed those things (32X, Saturn launch) you were effected by the poor business decisions behind them. That surprise launch as well as scrambling to add every chip they could to the Saturn in fear of what the PS1 might be is what put them at odds with retailers/publishers and made it a hard system to make games for. Poor choices like that continued through the life of the Saturn right up to the famous “Saturn is not our future” in 199 god damn 7.

My dislike of the 32x is well known and only half joking in it’s hyperbole. It was hot garbage and took away time and development from what could have been a full 32bit cartridge system or just more effort on the Saturn. The only defense that it has is that the Sega CD was decent and no one else seemed to have the foresight about how bad addon systems were at the time yet. How much smaller the install base is on a secondary device makes it a very hard proposition to get actual quality games made for it. Why take the time and effort to make a game that fully takes advantage of that new hardware if only 10% of the people that own a Genesis/Mega Drive even have it, and only a fraction of them may buy your game? Again, hindsight granted by the modern console landscape.

None of that means that either system was bad or that you couldn’t enjoy it, but I maintain that Sega was fucking up longer and harder way before doing a thing a bunch of companies did in that gen, splitting their games across everything with random exclusives. It may be more noticeable for Sega though since before if you wanted a Sega game, you got the Sega system.

Your last line is the point for me. I loved Sega games, so I bought Sega hardware. I realized that not everyone was buying Sega CD (I sold it at EB when it was new. I started there in the summer of 1993 so that was the second Holiday season for it. I oversaw the second model’s release with Sewer Shark in the box.), but I also saw that Sega was supporting it, and that was enough for me.

32X was similar, but obviously more limited. That said, Star Wars, Virtua Racing, Knuckles Chaotix, Shadow Squadron and even Metal Head were really solid games at the time. Heck, it was the best version of Mortal Kombat II then as well IIRC, and Acclaim’s NFL Quarterback Club was excellent too.

The infighting between Sega of Japan and Sega of America is legendary. It’s a shame that it came to that. Both had different scenarios to fight. Sega was no one in Japan at the time and Saturn was needed over there. In the US, they were still great with Genesis. And as you note, no one knew that peripherals were such a tough sell, even good ones. Imagine still if 3dfx got the Sega contract later on?! Would NVIDIA have conquered all in the same way if that happens? Maybe… but it would’ve been tougher.

I just felt a lot more betrayed (which is probably too harsh even for me) with the splitting of their games across Xbox, PS2 and Gamecube than I ever did before that because they always gave me great games I could have in one place. I was (and to a certain extent still am) very much against Microsoft’s entry into consoles. It seemed very cynical at the time and I think that persists into 2019 which is why they are where they are now as an also-ran to Sony and potentially to Nintendo as we see how Switch plays out. They had the PC all to themselves but couldn’t monetize it enough so along comes this Xbox to tear all the PC developers away from their best platform and mess up all of PC gaming as well as carve up console developers and push things toward what we have now… underpowered PCs in disguise masquerading as consoles.

Sega’s catalog being spread all over cost Sega fans a fortune or finally severed their ties entirely. It really sucked the most for me.

Well, spreading the games around and so many failing was actually what killed them in the end. Sure there was debt from before etc, but Sega survived the Saturn/Dreamcast. But it was poor sales in 2001 and 2002 which finally killed them. They went looking for buyers and ceased to exist as a company in 2004 when Sammy bought them out.

Again, just look at Monkey Ball. Two multi-million selling hits on Gamecube. Instead of continuing where the proven money was, they tried to give it a go on PS2/Xbox (failed) and even goddamn Ngage. After two huge hits, Gamecube never got another real monkey ball, just a port of a PSP spinoff. Sonic was the same, multi-million selling on Gamecube, oh but we have to go multi-platform for the first actual new Sonic game. Why exactly? Virtua Fighter, Panzer Dragoon, Shenmue, Jet Set Radio etc were not made multi-platform. Instead Gamecube got… Billy Hatcher?

I never thought about it this way - I myself missed all of Sega’s games on Xbox because I never (and still don’t) have one.

GBA I think they generally handled very well at least - with the exception of stuff like Jet Set Radio, Crazy Taxi: Catch a Ride and Super Monkey Ball Jr they were games that couldn’t exist on the console market at the time, and felt right at home on the portable. Puyo Pop, Astro Boy: Omega Factor, the Sonic Advances, Gunstar Super Heroes and Pinball of the Dead were all great ideas for portables.

I think you are putting the cart before the horse in regards to Super Monkey Ball and Sonic on the Gamecube and then Sega going away from the platform to the PS2/XB. By the time Super Monkey Ball came out on the Gamecube in late 2001, the majority of the XB and PS2 deals were already in place and development on those games was far along in the process. Gunvalkyrie came out in March of 2002, followed shortly by other games like Crazy Taxi 3, JSRF, The House of the Dead 3, Shenmue II and Sega GT 2002. The Sonic Adventure 2 remake didn’t come out till 2002 and Sonic Adventure DX didn’t come out till 2003 on the Gamecube.

Regardless of 20/20 hindsight and what would have been best for Sega the company, being a gamer and Sega Dreamcast fan back in 2001, the Xbox was the place to go for the continuation of online gaming and actual sequels to some of my favorite Dreamcast games, along with new Sega IP.

Ah, you need to change that. Sega’s Xbox output is some of their best.