The spear-fishing game, for example, is a cinch: point remote at screen, jab at fish as instructed, job done. Snowboarding and Monkey Racing can be picked up in a minute: you just tilt the controller or use it in steering wheel fashion, respectively. However, other games are utterly bewildering. In Alien Attack – a basic 3D shoot-em-up – the controls are spectacularly unwieldy. In Frog-Ball they’re so bad that our test group gave up and let the time-counter run down rather than persevere any more. When Banana Blitz is bad, it’s very, very bad.
The games that most closely match real-world activities fare better, but even these have their ups and downs. Hammer Throwing is entertaining, and though it might have been even more so if you had had to physically spin with the Wii remote, it would probably have also been a lot more dangerous. Ring-tossing is fairly ingenious, and while Monkey Darts is low on accuracy, it is fun when you get the hang of it. However, bowling, golf and boxing have all been better handled in Wii Sports, while the likes of Whack-a-Mole are simply horrific, with the remote unable to deliver the accuracy and responsiveness the game demands. Perhaps even more depressing are the missed opportunities. Fencing is a frantic mess of two monkeys armed with just one thrust move and one parry, while Hang Gliding falls flat because the movement simply doesn’t seem to match your actions. Very disappointing.
Let’s not go over-gloomy. There are some gems here – Monkey Racing and Monkey Target as always (though the latter takes getting used to), plus Monkey War (a rudimentary FPS, no less). However, there are also a lot of games here that are short on real content. I can’t imagine anyone coming back to the tightrope-walking, trombone-playing or blacksmithing games again and again. Overall you have to question the whole approach, partly because the best mini-games here aren’t explored to their full potential. Wouldn’t it have been better to prototype fifty ideas, discard thirty and work on the twenty good ones ‘til they shine? I’d rather have more courses for Monkey Racing or just more interesting courses for Monkey Snowboard than have seen Bug Balancing, Fruit Catching or Jigsaw. The result of all this is that multi-player Banana Blitz is best played in quickfire fashion, zipping through the games, laughing with the best and moving on quickly from the worst. It’s the gaming equivalent of a £5.99 Chinese buffet; don’t expect too much and a few of the dishes will pleasantly surprise you, but if you want real flavour, look elsewhere.
In short, this is the first Super Monkey Ball that hasn’t been elevated from good to must-have status by its mini-games (well, awful to just about sufferable status in the case of SMB Adventure). Fans of the series can buy safe in the knowledge that the single-player action is as compulsive as it ever was, but Banana Blitz leaves you feeling that the team spread itself too thin, and that overall quality has suffered as a result.
The most well-rounded and entertaining single-player Monkey Ball yet. If only the multi-player action was such consistently good fun.
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