The creators of Yakuza returned to their roots with Super Monkey Ball Banana Rumble


There’s an arcade-themed bar near where I live in South London where you can buy the original Monkey Ball office. This 2001 Sega classic that became the Nintendo GameCube’s launch game is called Super Monkey Ballit has a single banana-shaped joystick in front of the screen at an angle. Players employ a banana to guide AiAi, the ball monkey, to the end of challenging platforming stages. It’s wacky, minimalistic and brilliant – even 23 years ago it felt like a throwback to the surreal innocence of early video games.

I played great Super Monkey Ball on GameCube; is one of my favorite games of all time. When I spotted an ancient cabinet in the bar, I had to try it out. I didn’t do very well – the banana joystick had seen better days and was a bit loose, with a enormous dead zone. (Besides, I was already deep into the evening after a few drinks.) But the game itself reduced the previous two decades to nothing. The feeling of ball physics, routes through stages, shortcuts with risky ricochets and heart-in-mouth falls – it was all still there, programmed into my muscle memory, ready and waiting to be recalled by the instantly recognizable blast of upbeat techno music.

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Monkey Ball became a low-key franchise for Sega, fueled in part by the addition of a set of inventive, comical party games (Monkey Target, Monkey Bowling, Monkey Golf, and others) to the GameCube game. However, the perfection of the original single-player level set from the 2001 game proved arduous for developers to imitate. It is arduous to develop something so plain and pure in a meaningful way; each subsequent version ended up watering it down.

Photo: Studio Ryu Ga Gotoku/Sega

To make matters worse for Monkey Ball, the Sega team that created these games soon had another hit franchise on their hands, and it couldn’t have been more different: Yakuza, now called Like a Dragon. The studio, which was once called Amusement Vision and then CS1 R&D, eventually changed its name to Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio, after the Japanese name for a series of sprawling gangster melodramas.

There wasn’t much time left at RGG Studio for AiAi and his friends, and in 2010 the series fell into disrepair for some time. But after remakes of the first three games and Super Monkey Ball Banana Blitz interest returned, RGG Studio decided to try again. The result is Super Monkey Ball Banana Rumble: a novel version for Nintendo Switch, the first original Monkey Ball title in ten years, and a take on the series that is both fresh and deeply nostalgic.

The basics haven’t changed: Reach your destination before time runs out and collect bananas along the way. As always, the trick to Super Monkey Ball is understanding that you’re actually tilting the entire level, not controlling the ball. Banana Rumble it’s exceptionally glossy (adventure mode runs at a pristine 60 frames per second) and instinctive to play. The levels are fairly effortless early in the game, with plenty of wide, secure platforms to traverse, and lean towards interactive elements rather than the incredibly arduous balancing challenges of the original.

Aerial view of the Super Monkey Ball Banana Rumble stage - the platforms are wide but bristling with zip-up ramps

Photo: Studio Ryu Ga Gotoku/Sega

However, RGG Studio has combined difficulty with meta-challenges for each level – a target completion time (usually just a few seconds), the total number of bananas collected, and a golden banana to aim – as well as a novel spin move that can be charged up to give your monkey ball additional acceleration. Pressing a button in Monkey Ball? Sacrilege! …Though just think of the shortcut possibilities this opens up.

“We wanted to lower the difficulty level in the early adventure mode worlds, but the new spin dash technique expanded the possibilities for users to beat any level and made each stage worth playing, even for advanced players,” director Daisuke Takahata told Polygon over email . Takahata leads a team at RGG that includes several Monkey Ball veterans, including Yukio Oda, a level designer who has worked on many games in the series up to the original.

“The Super Monkey Ball series uses a unique physics system that allows for the creation of essentially any type of level, and we’re proud to say that this approach is a great way to capture the imagination of level designers,” Oda explained, also in an email. “Even looking back over 20 years, I think many of the levels are very original. I think originality comes first Super Monkey Ball is the DNA of the series, so I did it Banana thunder keeping all of this in mind while trying to adapt it to changing times and player needs.”

Four players play a split-screen co-op adventure stage in Super Monkey Ball Banana Rumble

Photo: Studio Ryu Ga Gotoku/Sega

In their responses, Takahata and Oda made several references to responding to players’ changing tastes and “ifs.” Banana thunder it’s more affable and adaptable than Monkey Ball games used to be, which is probably why. Oda, however, pointed out that players have been surprising the creators from day one. “I’ve been involved with the series for many years, and I feel like more than half of the shortcuts I’ve found so far weren’t intended by the level designer at all. We are often surprised to learn about these unexpected shortcuts from various online videos,” he said.

However, some innovations do not have the impact on design that you might expect. Banana thunder supports four-player co-op in Adventure Mode – essentially allowing four players to combine efforts to complete a stage simultaneously – but Takahata says this had no impact on the level design. There’s also a 16-player battle mode, but its sluggish and choppy frame rate is anathema to Monkey Ball. This is one of the series of games for which the basic requirement is a constant 60 frames per second.

One of my fondest gaming memories is beating “chain 0.1” in the Advanced 11 stage of the original version Super Monkey Ball. This plain but crafty level is shaped like a guitar, presenting four “strings” – straight paths to a goal – with increasing narrowness. A 0.1 string is one-tenth the width of a monkey ball, and for a long time I thought it was impossible. But with the patient support of a friend, I made it and realized that it had been quite plain all along; it wasn’t a test of skill, but a test of nerve.

An aerial view of the Super Monkey Ball Banana Rumble stage, showing the twisting, curved track hanging high above the sun-drenched water

Photo: Studio Ryu Ga Gotoku/Sega

“If you still remember this stage, it means I managed to create an unforgettable level,” Oda said. “If I were to comment on this stage in particular, I would say the themes would be ‘courage and confidence’ and ‘challenging yourself and the sense of achievement that follows.’ When designing the hardest stages, it’s also important to make users think, “I’ve almost got it!” and “So close!” But if a stage is just too strenuous and you have no idea how to get through it, or if you fail unreasonably, that won’t encourage you to try again, right?”

It’s comical to think of Od, who designed those brilliant, crazy stages back in 2001, returning to continue his life’s work, but surrounded by other developers creating street fights, chatty cutscenes and weird mini-games with Like a dragon: infinite wealth. (Takahata said the Like a Dragon team helped with testing Banana thunderand their perspective helped with the “overall quality of the level design”). The studio that created Banana Rumble A lot has changed over the last two decades, but the plain joy of the Monkey Ball series has remained. It’s even refreshed; Banana thunder this is the first novel entry in a long time that feels more like a love letter than an obligation. Oda said one thing – perhaps the most essential thing – about making Monkey Ball hasn’t changed at all over the past 20 years: “The fun we had making this game hasn’t changed one bit. :)”

Super Monkey Ball Banana Rumble was released on June 25 on Nintendo Switch. The game could be played on the Nintendo Switch using a pre-download code provided by Nintendo. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, although Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased through affiliate links. You can find Additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy can be found here.

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