Super Monkey Ball Banana Splitz Vita Review
Small doses of fun
Vibrant colour and familiar charm
Not so much?
Multiplayer is redundant
Lots of small-scale content spread thin
Redundant scoreboard and replay save systems
Awkward, needlessly mazy menu system
Yet another Super Monkey Ball game that suits portability well but does nothing to advance the series or even utilise the Vita in any particularly meaningful way.
Buried in a labyrinthine menu system is a game that entertains in small doses but the experience is a largely empty one; the lack of level select in the Challenge mode means you may keep coming back simply to make another valiant yet pointless attempt at surpassing the five Advanced worlds in one fell swoop.
Yet another Super Monkey Ball game. We’re beyond ‘one too many’ now: it’s clear that SEGA have no intention of finding ways to improving the continually successful series, and as such with Super Monkey Ball Banana Splitz a great new experience franchise goes wanting.
Super Monkey Ball Banana Splitz is the seventeenth game in the series (not including the game featuring on SEGA Superstars). That’s a substantial number of games that work on a largely unchanged but now all-too-familiar formula: monkey in a ball rolling around. The changes come in the form of the variance in worlds and environments in which these monkeys in balls roll which, as Banana Splitz – and not Banana Blitz - proves, is where the series desperately needs a rethink.
This time, Ai-Ai and friends are in a toy world, filled with toys and cardboard-like backgrounds and wind-up dinosaurs and monkeys smashing their fists against things. The game’s Challenge Mode in the Solo section will be the main port of call for you and this is where the hundred or so worlds touted feature: beyond the well-utilised scaling challenge through each ten level-filled world and the on-the-surface vibrancy, the game doesn’t shine all too bright. You control the worlds, the key gameplay mechanic that’s driven the Super Monkey Ball series, so the worlds do need to look pretty yet it’s clear SEGA haven’t paid too much consideration to their less important surroundings.
That said, Banana Splitz as expected is a colourful game. Each world has its own style that runs across all levels and between the level floor patterns, shiny bananas and array of clever interactive obstructions the level designs and presentation can be appreciated. Certain parts of the game shine, even if the background décor amongst other things don’t. Controlling the shiny levels means the camera moves with the left stick movements or the whole console – quite gratefully your choice before you start – and as such there’s a lot of disorienting shaking that will often prove crucial in later levels.
The right stick does let you control the camera, but only when at a standstill. This when combined with an often tiny time limit means that continually the shaky camera and awkward angles during intricate level navigation proves your literal downfall. In Challenge Mode you get nine chances to continue should you go out of bounds a few too many times, but on several occasions these ran out fast for me on Advanced (a fifty-level ode to the word ‘challenge’) due to the inability to move the camera around during high-intensity moments.
A saving grace perhaps is the Practice section, which gives you something the Challenge mode doesn’t: the ability to choose individual levels and learn to master them. Challenge forces you to play through every level, in a way to have you contend with the leaderboard system that frankly is entirely redundant. Using a continue forces your score to reset meaning later on your cumulated score is over a handful of levels, not worlds. Attempting to get through the entirety of Advanced without a singular continue used is a major waste of time, and using continues to do so means your score is severely diminished when you reach the end-game scenario to submit your score.
The aim doesn’t become about getting a high score in spite of the leaderboard – which is what it should really be about, this being a time-based puzzle game – and instead about surviving for as long as you can. Even if the multiplayer functionality extended beyond trying valiantly to get someone in your actual vicinity to play with you, the leaderboard system would still be a waste.
There’s a Party mode that lets you play mini-games catered to both the game formula and the Vita, but without people to play with the entertainment value of these is critically minimal. There’s actually a fully-fledged online section where you should be a forum through which to compete with other players… but without any actual players online for you to play with – as appears to be the case – the entire multiplayer aspect of Banana Splitz is needless.
I don’t know if SEGA expected people to keep the online portion active or not. There won’t be that many players to begin with: even with the rapid price-drop the Vita isn’t particularly a console with online multiplayer in mind beyond sharing capabilities, and SEGA should really have focused on making the single player better.
As it stands, the amount of content hidden within a poorly devised labyrinth of a menu layout is deceptive. There’s an Edit function which suggests level customisation but instead allows you to edit a photo of a level you’ve taken. The ability to create levels using the Vita’s camera function is another feature that’s disappointingly not what it’s cracked up to be: you can take a photo of a real object and the game will create a level based on it, but the game manipulates the photo to the point where the object is pretty much irrelevant; subsequently playing the created levels is a vacuous extension of a tacky tacked-on feature.
Super Monkey Ball Banana Splitz to an extent caters well to the Vita and was a logical choice for SEGA in choosing their contribution to the system, yet it serves as a reminder that the series’ charm is fading and the same old formula is wearing thin.
Beneath the shiny surface layer visuals and casual quick-burst entertainment is a game that falls short of being worthy of purchase.