Developer: Sega / Publisher: Sega / Price: $29.99 / Played on: PlayStation Vita / ESRB: Everyone [Comic Mischief]
Ten years ago, I bought Super Monkey Ball for the Nintendo GameCube. It was fun enough, but didn’t have much lasting power. Imagine my surprise to learn that Monkey Ball is still alive and rolling—now on the PlayStation Vita. Does this game, filled to the brim with a track editing mode and bunches of mini-games, justify the franchise’s decade of continued existence? Does it warrant the expenditure of thirty whole dollars?
No. It does not.
Gameplay and Control
The main attraction of Banana Splitz is the same as it ever was: guide an anime-style monkey inside of a ball from one end of a tilting obstacle course to the other. Along the way, pick up bananas, and don’t fall off the side. It’s basically a digital version of the old fashioned tilting marble puzzle, in which you have to move the marble from the start to the end, at which point it falls through a little hole. So far, so good.
The Monkey Ball series has accomplished this through the analogue stick: tilt it lightly, and the puzzle platform world will tilt slightly, meaning your monkey ball will roll slowly. Tilt it all the way, and the platform becomes steep, sending the monkey flying. It’s a simple mechanic that works well enough. This iteration actually gives players the chance to get closer to the game’s origins, giving the option to use either the left analogue stick or to tilt the system itself, a feature powered by the Vita’s internal gyroscope.
While the stick works fine, I was a bit disappointed with the gyroscopic controls. It’s not as though they don’t work—they do. It’s that there’s no way to calibrate or reset it, meaning that your natural inclination to trust in the gravity around you in reality won’t help you in steering your monkey ball to the finish line. I expected that leaving my Vita flat on my desk would keep the game still, but that wasn’t the case. I sort of got used to the position the game decided was “flat,” but never enough that the gyroscopic controls felt like second nature. The lack of recalibration features was a real missed opportunity for Banana Splitz, since it could’ve offered up a whole new dimension to the gameplay.
Aside from the skewed controls, the single-player campaign is fine. It’s the same obstacle-avoiding, banana-collecting mayhem that can be found in any of the other Super Monkey Ball Games. And if you’re a fan of the series and want to get your hands on the latest and greatest tracks, then stop reading now, and buy the game.
For everyone else who might wonder about the track-editing, multiplayer options, and mini-games, I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news…
A few minutes ago, I was talking with fellow IGD writer Landon about why I hate this game so much, prompted by my fuming about the track editor feature. I asked if he knew how it worked, and he said no, but that he probably had a good guess. This is what he said:
“I’d assume it’s either a top-down tile system that’s super basic or something that’s wholly complex and ambitious but falls apart in execution/usability.”
Sadly, he couldn’t have been more wrong. Banana Splitz’s track editor is nothing more than a gimmicky piece of garbage. This is the step-by-step process of making a track:
- Take a picture of something. Anything. It literally doesn’t matter.
- Shake the Vita. Hard or soft as you like—it literally doesn’t matter.
- Play the track that is arbitrarily and randomly generated as a result. I assure you, it will not even remotely resemble anything you photographed.
- Try not to throw your Vita in the garbage. It’s not the system’s fault this game sucks.
In the “Edit” sub-menu, there’s a “Manage Stages,” option. I imagined that this would let me edit my randomly generated tracks—but I was wrong again. There are three options under “Manage”: Play, Upload, and Delete. The Upload function, I imagine, allows you to share your “custom” tracks with friends. I’m not sure what would possess anyone to share a track that was created entirely by accident, however.
The mini-games aren’t much better. There’s bowling (bumpers only), “battle billiards,” some weird hang-gliding thing, and a bunch of other half-baked, under-explained mini-games that are marginally fun, at best. The instructions for each mini-game are really poorly worded, and difficult to understand, meaning that trial-and error is the only sure path to success. I’ve encountered Sega’s inability to write instructions for motion-based mini-games before. While Banana Splitz isn’t quite as egregious, it’s still frustrating to have a whole bunch of games that you don’t want to play because, simply put, you don’t know how.
Finally, I’d tell you about the game’s multiplayer if I could: but nearly two weeks after the game’s release, I couldn’t find a single person online to play it with. Amazingly, the game does offer pass-and-play multiplayer for its mini-games, proving that it’s not a complete insult to consumers.
In short, literally every single aspect of this game, aside from the main solo puzzles, is garbage. I am actually offended that this game costs thirty dollars.
There is a story, detailed in the game’s instruction manual. Apparently one of the monkeys, named Doctor, invented a toy time machine, and now all the monkeys are inside of a toy world that features, like, toy dinosaurs and stuff. Each of the eight playable characters (though only four are available during solo play) are also described in mind-bendingly stupid detail in the instructions. Did you know that MeeMee is in love with AiAi? But AiAi only loves bananas! Also, they have a baby named Baby who is from the future, and also this sucks.
The aforementioned “story” informs the “tin-toy” aesthetic found throughout the game. The stages seem constructed from paper, cardboard, and plastic model kits, with interesting moving obstacles in the form of dinosaurs or statues. It’s colorful, well-animated, and, impressively, not horrible.
Of course, there’s plenty more that invalidates the little good that the visuals provide. The sound is obnoxious, with repetitive music. That would be somewhat forgivable if each monkey wasn’t entirely annoying. Bumping into walls or getting flung into the air causes the monkeys to wail or grunt… and they are all irritating. I hate them. All of the monkeys.
And it doesn’t end there. The user-interface to simply choose what mode you want is inspired by some kind of weird industrial assembly line, and takes a few seconds to animate as you rotate through your choices. The fact that even picking the game mode you want is annoying is impressive, and a testament to how aggressively bad this game is.
It doesn’t stop there. The game has no option for auto-saving, meaning that every time you complete a run in solo, or leave a game, or finish a “custom” track, or do anything, the game asks if you want to save. Can’t I enjoy this terrible game experience without being constantly interrupted? I don’t understand how a game cannot have an auto-save feature in 2012.
The solo game in Banana Splitz is competent and enjoyably challenging. Every other component of this package is a challenge to enjoyment. And with a version of Super Monkey Ball available for Android phones for a mere $2.99, the very idea that anyone should pay $30 for this hunk of trash is an affront to humanity—one that can only have been orchestrated by damned, dirty apes.
+ Same solid platform-puzzles found throughout the series
- Everything else
- No, seriously, everything else about this game sucks
3.5 / 10