Six years ago, the GameCube launched with the very first Super Monkey Ball. Since then, we've seen the glass-encased primates weave their way through countless floating mazes, only to show up in yet another game with similar puzzles to solve. Now there's Banana Blitz. With so many monkey options out there (spanning nearly every platform you can think of), what makes this one worth checking out? Actual new content.
Up until now - with the heartbreakingly noteworthy exception of the failed experiment Super Monkey Ball Adventure - each Monkey Ball was nothing more than a new assortment of hovering courses designed to make your brain split apart. Fun, yes, but every new game felt more like an expansion pack than a brand new title. Banana Blitz, on the other hand, offers entirely new worlds and courses, boss battles and the ability to jump. The last two serve to make the game a wholly new Monkey experience.
With a flick of the wrist (or push of the A button), you can bop your little monkey into the air. At first, this seems like the most trivial "enhancement" in video games ever, but being able to jump totally alters the way the mazes are laid out. The tracks have a lot more platforming elements in them, forcing you to approach each level with a different mindset than traditional Monkey games. It's simple tweaks like this that define the difference between "rehash" and "sequel." The only downside to all this jumping is that some levels rely on the ability too much, tacking on another layer of variables you have to balance in addition to keeping the course level.
The eight worlds are divided into eight levels apiece, topped off with a boss battle. Given how hard it is just to get around in monkey world, none of the bosses can offer much in the way of memorable confrontations. They all have some kind of glowing weak spot you have to jump and hit, each with a predictable pattern and re-used attacks. Granted, they have some unique bit to them (bounce missiles back at one, systematically dismantle another), but they're not gonna make or break your decision to play the game again and again.
That honor belongs to the 50 minigames ready to go from day one. Wii has already become the minigame console king, and it's Banana Blitz that cements that status. Homerun derbies, treasure hunts, UFO attacks, snowboarding... if you can imagine monkeys doing it, it's probably in here. The catch is that only 10 of them are cool enough to play over and over (hammer toss). 10 more pretty much suck hard (trumpet blowing?) and 30 are fun for at least a couple of tries (slingshot shooting).
Banana Blitz won't be converting any Monkey haters, but for those who can't get enough of the perpetually trapped simians, it's a great sequel and strong part of Wii's launch lineup. The visuals are clean and smooth, the music's right on target and the motion controls generally function well (we had a few hiccups with slowing and stopping the ball). Solo play should last a good while, but it's the minigames that'll keep Blitz from collecting dust well into the new year.