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:
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.