In a day and age where people can interact with games through any number of devices, making a title that appeals to multiple markets can be trying. Designers want to make their games accessible enough for people to jump in and feel uninhibited, if even only to increase the potential market for both current and future titles. Simultaneously, providing content for veterans must also exist, so as to hold on to the loyal fans that have dedicated certain aspects of a franchise to memory.
Content designers may choose to confront this problem through tiered gameplay, utilizing lazy design to create the illusion of difficulty, or forcing veteran players to play early content until they’ve earned the right to move on. MMORPGs justify this by making easy content applicable by character level, but if you’ve ever played a game where hard mode just meant that the enemy could take more hits, you have experienced the end result of the designer’s choice to cut corners.
Luckily, SEGA’s Super Monkey Ball: Banana Splitz does not cut any corners in the attempt to deliver fresh gameplay. Providing a rich, varied, customizable experience, Banana Splitz is a game that realizes the full scope of its potential market, and manages to hit every demographic right on the nose. The title truly prioritizes making players feel comfortable, regardless of their history with SMB.
The gameplay options allow players to control Aiai via the left analog stick or the Vita’s gyroscopic sensor. Players who harken back to the days of the Dreamcast now have a mobile option that they can play with friends who may have only ever played the app versions of the title. To add to that, each difficulty features different maps, with beginner focusing on fostering familiarity with the game, while advanced lines up the challenges for the veterans of SMB. The demo I played only featured those two difficulties, but I was assured that there would be a middle option for a moderate experience.
The first thing I did was play through the three advanced stages. Using the left analog, I spent a good thirty minutes becoming reacquainted with the simple fun of Monkey Ball. Lined with moving bumpers, advanced difficulty pulled no punches in establishing a noteworthy challenge. Thin rail-like tracks were my only way to the goal point, and acceleration was as much a critical factor to success as steering was. Unfortunately, my rustiness showed, as it took nearly twenty minutes to complete the final available stage.
Next, I hopped over to beginner to try my hand at the gyroscopic controls. Having never played the mobile phone version of Monkey Ball, the game made a point to ease me into the experience. While not my preferred way to play, the Vita’s gyroscopic controls were rather intuitive with regard to steering and controlling my speed.
Aside from the main gameplay, Banana Splitz also offers a number of mini-games for an enjoyable multi-player experience. The “love maze” game was of particular interest, where 1-2 players had to simultaneously guide a boy and a girl across individual obstacle-filled labyrinths through use of both analog sticks. The characters had to keep a close distance to each other as they navigated their respective courses; if one went too far ahead of the other, it affected the compatibility score negatively. I got through two courses solo until I couldn’t keep up, subjecting the poor couple to failure after plummeting failure.
Fans of Monkey Ball will be glad to know that Monkey Bowling and Monkey Target are finding their way to Banana Splitz. Monkey Bowling features a new vertical interface that I’m ambivalent toward; the game play hasn’t changeg, so my apprehension toward the top-down view in Monkey Bowling may just be nostalgia speaking. Monkey Target was not featured in the demo build, but the inclusion of both of these classics practically confirmed my purchase.
The last point of note, but quite possibly the most extraordinary feature in Banana Splitz, is the create-a-stage function. Players can take a picture of pretty much any physical object or lettering, flatten it and create a stage out of whatever they took a picture of. This provided some tricky stages, as the difficulty was determined by shaking the Vita when prompted. This will stand to provide countless hours of replay value, as players send each other the stages in an attempt to stump even the most well-practiced of Monkey Ball fans.
As gaming reaches an ever-widening scope of demographics, it’s refreshing to see a title in which the newcomers can settle in gently, while the battle-hardened can dive right in and go monkey balls to the wall. Banana Splitz is slated to hit the Vita this coming October.