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Super Monkey Ball Banana Splitz – PS Vita

Super Monkey Ball Banana Splitz – PS Vita

Super Monkey Ball Banana SplitzPlatform:  PS Vita

Developer:  Marvelous AQL

Publisher: Sega

Release Date (NA):  October 23rd, 2012

Genre:  Puzzle, Platformer

Rating:  6 out of 10

Be sure to check out Nerd Berry’s reviews of Super Monkey Ball and Super Monkey Ball 2 for the GameCube!

 

Although I’ve never played any of the Super Monkey Ball games, I was looking through PS Vita titles the other day, spotted Super Monkey Ball Banana Splitz, and remembered reading through the above reviews.  Its secondary games have tons of integrated functionality with the PS Vita’s hardware, and the main game can be played without the use of any buttons at all by just using the tilt sensors.  There’s a ton of stuff to explore in this game, though at times I feel more energy could’ve been spent on the primary “Monkey Ball” mode rather than that the multitude of games in the “Party” section.  While any part of the game can be enjoyed by anyone of any age, I believe it’s unlikely to attract more adult players in the long run.  Gameplay is limited in depth, making it much more appealing to children and their often short attention spans.

Super Monkey Ball Banana SplitzMost players will begin their experience with Banana Splitz by starting with the Monkey Ball mode.  Basic gameplay has changed little from what Nerd Berry describes in his reviews.  In a nut shell, the player assumes the role of a monkey in a ball and must traverse courses outfitted with various obstacles and tricky design elements.  Bananas can be collected along the way, with 30 of them equaling an extra life.  Players can start with the Beginner mode, which introduces a few sharp curves and steep declines as well as a few moving platforms.  Subsequent difficulties present harder stages, with an expert mode unlocked once the advanced mode has been completed.  Oh, and I almost omitted the mention of a time limit.  Many players will see the more difficult courses thinking that all they have to do to win is be extremely careful, but the clock ensures that one is forced to rush recklessly through at least some areas in a given level.

It will be tempting to use the PSV’s tilt controls to play through these games, but it’s challenging beyond the first few beginner levels.  The movements needed for sudden stops or precision turning are so slight that it would take a remarkable amount of practice.  Using the left joystick is much more preferable since our thumb can make these small and rapid adjustments almost automatically as opposed to the larger movements from controlling 2 wrists in tandem.  Honestly it was really a lot of fun until I died several times, over and over, from not being able to stop without going backwards too far, and from flying off curves after gathering too much speed with no way to gradually slow down while still maintaining steady movement.  After working at it I started having some limited success, but by the time I got to the last beginner level with the step-like configuration, I moved to the left joystick permanently.  No since in mastering a new control method when there’s already one I’m familiar with.

Super Monkey Ball Banana SplitzThat is pretty much it for Monkey Ball mode.  The courses get harder with all sorts of inventive challenges, but in the end it all boils down to how good one is with their left thumb.  Seriously.  I liked it, but it felt like it should’ve been a mini-game in a Donkey Kong title.  There’s also a couple of spots in Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario Galaxy 2 where Mario stands on a ball and rolls around.  I think Banana Splitz would have an easier time holding my attention if the level design was more open like the Galaxy games and added another way or two to interact with the environment such as jumping.  Instead, we have linear-style stages that play out more like race tracks, and nothing bores me as quickly as racing games, no matter how fun they are!

Even though Monkey Ball is the primary mode of play, you might find yourself spending more time in Party Mode after a couple of days.  Party Mode is filled with smaller, simpler (debatable) games that employ a number of different playing techniques in addition to utilizing all of the PSV’s neat little features.  The quality of these games vary as does the integration of PSV features, but I find at least 1 of them to have more depth and involve more intellect than the main game.

Let’s go ahead and knock out some of the weaker ones.

Number Ball:  I really hope Sega included this one for the preschoolers (not that I’d ever let a preschooler handle my Vita; I hover over my 1st grader and stack pillows under the device as it is), because this game is way too simple.  A number of billiard balls are bouncing around on the screen.  One must touch the balls in numerical order (unless selecting “Random,” but the same general process applies).  Once the correct ball is touched, it disappears and another ball makes its way onto the screen.  If an incorrect ball is tapped, the player is temporarily prohibited from touching the screen.  This process continues until the time limit runs out and a score is awarded based on how many correct answers are given.  The task is made a bit harder by having the balls constantly rotate, so it can be difficult to see the numbers at times.  Shaking the PSV will rotate the balls quicker than their normal rate.

Super Monkey Ball Banana SplitzPixie Hunt:  This game attempts to utilize the camera on the rear of the unit.  A countdown begins, and the player is asked to take a picture of something of a certain color.  These are simple colors, so the idea is quickly locate and take a picture of something “green” or “white,” etc.  Once taken, “pixies” appear and the player must touch a pixie and drag it to another pixie, creating a sort of chain.  The closer the color match, the more of these pixies appear, thus the higher one’s potential score.  Finding a source of bright green or blue in a dim, drab room can be difficult.  I got the best results when it asked me for white and I pointed the camera at the light coming in the window.  Another one for younger gamers; perhaps the point is to run around the house and actually find some bright green object?  Unsure, but I am sure that no child will ever dart around with my Vita.

Super Monkey Ball Banana SplitzMonkey Rodeo:  Monkey Rodeo is an attempt at an enjoyable, fast paced game, but it uses the PS Vita’s rear touchpad in an incompetent or incorrect manner; I’m not sure I can tell which.  The idea is to use the rear touchpad to bounce your character around and collect bananas strewn on the floor.  Three other players are also doing the same.  A sort of attack can be delivered by holding one’s finger down, letting the attack charge, and then releasing.  This move, if it connects (and that’s a big if), will knock some bananas out of the receiving character.  I was at first excited to play this one, as I’ve been dying for a game in which the rear touchpad can be used as the main form of control or execution, but truthfully Monkey Rodeo is almost impossible to play.  It’s very hard to control the character, mostly because you can’t see where on the touchpad is being touched, and you’ve also got to somewhat focus on holding the PSV without inadvertently touching an area on the touchpad.  The idea is that only an area to the left, right, top, or bottom of the character needs to be touched in order to produce a bounce, but it’s very difficult to physically do with one hand and even harder to coordinate the efforts of both hands.  To top it off with, attacking is clumsy.  It’s almost impossible to aim and takes far too long to charge up.  Computer controlled opponents seem to execute these moves flawlessly and with perfect aim.  At times, one can end up bouncing on top of another player over and over, rendering any attempts at using the rear touchpad useless.  It’s also an impossible situation to get out of unless the computer player moves because there are no controls otherwise.  The concept is cool, but either Sega did a horrible job of pulling it off or it just isn’t the right vehicle for a rear touchpad-only game.

With those out of the way, let’s discuss some of the in-betweeners.  Generally these 3 games are fun to play but there’s no real way to advance other than by making tedious adjustments to bulk up high scores.

Super Monkey Ball Banana SplitzMonkey Target:  A simple game where the monkey in the ball is launched into the air.  The halves of the sphere then open to act as a glider, and the objective is to land and close the ball on a target, attempting to come to rest on the highest number of points possible.  There are also rings Super Monkey Ball Banana Splitzin the air that one can fly through for extra points.  Overall not a bad game, but a little simplistic.  It’s easy to overshoot, get caught by the wind, or neglect to close the ball before getting too close in the beginning, however a little practice will have anyone consistently landing 70 points and up, with 5 rings in the air in no time.

Monkey Bowling:  Pretty standard bowling game, except for some reason there are no gutters.  The PS Vita is held vertically for this, and can be tilted to adjust the direction of the ball.  Since the player has the ability to adjust the trajectory of the ball mid-flight, aiming is completely unnecessary but mysteriously included.  Strikes may prove slightly elusive, but with the mechanics of Monkey Bowling, spares are abundant, even in the case of splits.

Super Monkey Ball Banana SplitzMonkey Bingo:  Were this game just a little more engaging, it might’ve made the jump to the next section.  There’s a 5×5 grid with holes in each square big enough for a “monkey ball” to fit into.  The object is to fill as many holes as possible, ideally 5 in row, while competing against 3 other players.  Items will randomly appear on the board causing events such as earthquakes, other players slowing down, or knocking another player out of a previously occupied space (eviction, bitch).  I really wish this game would make use of a higher frequency of items and more types of items to really increase the intensity and strategy.

The remaining two games aren’t perfect, but they are very well done, and if expanded upon could perhaps become individual titles worthy of purchase in their own right.

Super Monkey Ball Banana SplitzLove Maze:  In this game, 2 monkeys in love are joined by a weird ray of energy.  Each of them is on a similar but seperate path, and it’s the player’s job to move both of them to the finish line while keeping them connected.  The left side is controlled by the left joystick and likewise for the right side.  They don’t have to be moved simultaneously, but the energy ray won’t stretch indefinitely, and if the love connection is broken the game is over.  A lot of maze-like obstacles are present, including the imminent danger of falling completely off the platform.  Some passages need to be completed individually (but carefully) while some require some inventive coordination as both monkeys move at the same time.  Great problem solving game.

Super Monkey Ball Banana SplitzBattle Billiards:  Battle Billiards is by far my favorite of the lot.  Each player starts off with 3 balls, 1 of which is the Monkey Ball.  Each of the 4 players takes turns hitting any 1 of their 3 balls in an attempt to knock someone else’s balls into a pocket.  Though it’s called billiards, this isn’t a regular pool table.  It’s more of a square with sections in each corner dedicated to each player and a middle area surrounded by obstructions.  A flag is in the middle as well, and whoever possesses the flag gets extra points.  At the beginning of everyone’s turn, any lost balls immediately regenerate.  The game lasts 20 turns and each turn has a 20 second time limit in which to choose which ball will be used, where it will be aimed, and the act of shooting.  A semi-complex points system is used and it doesn’t take long to catch up or fall behind.  With a few added features, more than 1 map, and options to turn the time limit off or on and increase or decrease the number of turns, this could easily be a title unto itself.

Graphics in Banana Splitz are pleasant but nothing as wildly amazing as what the Vita is capable of.  The translucent nature of the plastic ball is done well, but aside from this we’re left with little more than bright, expressive colors and smooth lines, and that just isn’t quite good enough to jump ahead in PS Vita land.  Even though environments are supposed to be cartoonish, I would like to have seen more brilliance and imagination when it comes to light and shadows.  Increased levels of detail wouldn’t hurt either, as many of the visual focal points are fairly plain.  This all would’ve looked great on a PS2, but solid colors and simple geometric patterns aren’t enough anymore.  The menus have all sorts of interesting quirks and animations going on; it’s not easy to understand why this amount of style wasn’t carried through to the game.

Super Monkey Ball Banana SplitzAt first I wanted to give Banana Splitz at least a slight edge because of how openly and aggressively it attempts to work in the many fun features of the PSV.  The more I played and really thought about these features, the more I was able to start picking holes in nearly all applications.  The gyroscopes and accelerometers are meant for more general movements, not the fine-tuned adjustments needed when guiding the monkey ball onto moving platforms or across narrow bridges.  The rear touchpad mechanics are clumsy and awkward in Monkey Rodeo.  All front touchpad applications do nothing more than replace otherwise simple button presses.  The use of the rear camera is a bit of a stretch as well as being a confusing and ambiguous element in the context of Pixie Hunt.  Although the use of so many of the Vita’s novel features is commendable, as a package it feels rushed, unrefined, and poorly tested.  Younger and older children will have a blast with this game, but for adults the satisfaction of winning may not outweigh the outright boredom of trudging through overly simplistic games on the most advanced handheld to date.

Super Monkey Ball Banana SplitzMy suggestion(s)?  Cut out half of the mini-games and develop the other 4 twofold.  Beef up the main title by adding more usable items in the environment instead of only obstacles.  At least give AiAi or MeeMee or GonGon or whoever the hell else the ability to do a little jumping.  Throw in a bit of more traditional platforming; jump on some enemies, fight a boss, something like that.  I dig the overarching concept of Super Monkey Ball Banana Splitz, but there’s something about it that feels watered down or unfinished.  I won’t be rushing out for other titles in the franchise, but it will give me something else to keep my eye out for if the price is right.

Reviewed by The Cubist

Written by The Cubist

The Cubist


Co-founder, Head Author, & Site Technician

Find out what these ratings mean and how I rate video games.

I collect as much video gaming paraphernalia as I can get my hands on, especially when it comes to hardware. With over 40 systems including oldies like the ColecoVision and Intellivision, obscurities like the CD-i and 3DO, and the latest and greatest including the Wii U, PS4, Xbox One, 3DS, and PS Vita, I get easily overwhelmed. Most of the time you can find me firmly nestled sometime between 1985 and 1995 when it comes to my games of choice, but I’m also having a great time seeing what the 8th generation has to offer.

Currently in love with: Mortal Kombat

Email me anytime, about anything: thecubist@nerdbacon.com

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