Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz

There are two virtually independent components to Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz.  On one hand, this is a twitchy, challenging, fast-paced single player puzzle game.  On the other, it is a large collection of minigames intended for multiplayer Wii parties.  The almost absurd cuteness of the monkeys ties the game together, but the two components are geared towards very different gamers.

The single player "main game" is in the tradition of the Monkey Ball games.  Tilting the Wii-mote left and right tilts the sage, and allows you to roll a monkey-in-a-ball around a track, jumping obstacles and collecting bananas as you race against a clock and try not to fall out of the stage.  The initial world is almost insultingly easy as the game lets you learn the mechanics and physics of your monkeys-in-a-ball.  Nevertheless, the difficulty quickly ramps up to the point of extreme challenge.  Other reviews have identified Banana Blitz as one of the most challenging titles for the Wii.  I have to agree.  The controls are very responsive, and the physics feels natural, but nevertheless the combination of tight time limits, tight paths, outrageous speed, and no end of obstacles makes for frequent "fall outs" whenever I played.  In the end, single player gameplay will likely frustrate all but the most devoted and twitch-friendly gamers.

The party games, on the other hand, are definitely geared more toward causal gamers.  And this was where the game really shined.  Mostly.  There are a total of 50 party games available, each lasting between 10 seconds and 5 minutes.  The game has a nice "tournament" mode allowing players to work through up to nine of these at a time, with the game keeping score and eventually declaring a champion.  Given how varied, entertaining, and even bizarre these games can be, it can make for great fun–and it natural enough increments to allow players to pass the wii-motes around.  Personal favorites in our house include Bug Balance, where you use the Wii-mote to catch stacks of ladybugs falling from above, Hammer Throw, where you twirl your Wii-mote in the air to throw a hammer, Seesaw Ball, where you navigate your monkey-in-a-ball through a course of tiltable seesaws, and Racing Birds, where you use the Wii-mote and nunchuk to guide a bird through an obstacle course.  The latter, in particular, has an amazing feel, especially when you pull back on your remotes to gracefully pull your bird out of a dive–for a second or so, it’s pure bliss.  And often, because of the unique design of some minigames, simultaneous multiplayer with up to four players is possible without resorting to a four-way split screen.
 
Unfortunately, the quality of the minigames varies tremendously, and many of the games aren’t much fun.  Some, like Jump Rope, or Simon Says, are often over so quickly that they seem pointless.  Even worse, many of these games are not just unenjoyable, they’re downright "broken".  Red Light Green Light, for example, is maddening –you are supposed to stop moving when signaled, but often, no matter what you do with your controls (we even tried setting them down on the floor), your character will lose his or her balance, move, and get sent back to the beginning.  It’s also common in some games, like Banana Catch and Whack A Mole, to completely lose one’s cursor, preventing the player from being able to do anything in the game.  I think that the designers would have been better off removing the most buggy games and going with "just" 35-40 minigames instead of the 50…after a try or two, that’s all anyone will play anyway.  The rest just get in the way.

At $30, it’s among the lowest-priced games available for the Wii.  But unless you’re a fan of the series, or are planning to have a lot of Wii parties and want something with more variety than Wii Sports, I’d probably just recommend this one as a rental.

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