Some people may suggest that Luigi's Mansion was the launch title for the Nintendo GameCube back in 2001. Other might say it was Rogue Squadron 2.
All of those people would be wrong. The title that really made the GameCube launch was Super Monkey Ball. With physically demanding action, tilty conundrums, and an adorable aesthetic, it was glorious.
The Monkey Ball series took a stumble recently with Super Monkey Ball 3D for the Nintendo 3DS. It dumbed down on both the difficulty and the content, and made us wonder whether all hope was lost for the series.
It would appear that Sega listened to the complaints. Super Monkey Ball: Banana Splitz for Vita recaptures what made the original concept glorious, even if it does feel a little clumsy in places.Bananarama
For those Monkey Ball virgins among you, the aim is to roll a ball with a monkey in it around dangerously winding stages. The first couple of dozen levels are relatively flat and easy to navigate, but then the game turns up the heat, throwing your monkey through downhill half-pipes and off freefall ledges.
Along the way there are bananas to collect and bonus levels to blast through. However, the main goal always remains the same - reach the exit any way that you can, even if that means throwing yourself through the air in spectacular fashion.
Banana Splitz draws on what made the Monkey Ball series great fun in the first place - danger. You won't be simply rolling along obvious pathways on each level. Instead, there are moving platforms of doom to tackle, ramps to zoom down, and tight corners to navigate.
This Vita version of the series also throws in themed worlds - you'll be dodging around toy castle settings and climbing aboard model dinosaurs on your journey to the end game. There's a lot of personality in Banana Splitz, rather than just the usual cutesy nonsense.
More elements are pulled from old Monkey Ball games to great effect. Secret exits allow you to warp past several levels in one go, while mini-games like the wonderful Monkey Target are back, joined by some nice new mini-games like Monkey Rodeo and AR game Pixie Hunt.
These new additions are unlikely to have you unsheathing your letter-to-home-writing pen, but they provide a nice distraction between proper Monkey Ball runs.Monkey around
The list of features goes on. Snap a picture using your Vita camera and Banana Splitz will attempt to turn it into a playable Monkey Ball level. Some inevitably work better than others, but it's still a very nice concept.
You can also share these levels with friends and download levels they've created. Unfortunately, you can't just grab levels online a la LittleBigPlanet - you have to be PSN friends with someone to get their levels - which limits the fun you have with the feature.
Online leaderboards are a smart new addition to the series. You can zoom-in to your particular part of the world using a map, and check your times against other players', or zoom-out and check against the entire world.
Then you've got multiplayer options - both with Vita-to-Vita play and on a single handheld. Passing the Vita for a rousing game of Monkey Target is an unbeatable joy.Oh Monkey Balls
There's still room for polish and improvement, and we'd love to see Sega getting the next Monkey Ball completely right.
The menu system feels awkward and clumsy as you swipe green monitors to choose modes. Each time you pick one it takes ages to load the next screen, and flicking between them in the first place is pretty awful.
In fact, this clumsiness runs throughout numerous parts of the game. The camera, for example, can be incredibly fiddly when you're trying to navigate tiny spaces. It's especially noticeable on levels in which there are big obstacles obstructing your view.
On top of that, the gyro controls don't feel right at all. Fortunately, you're never forced to use them (unless you intend to collect all of the trophies).
Despite these teething issues, Super Monkey Ball: Banana Splitz is a job very well done. Monkey Ball fans will be happy to get back into the thick of it, and everyone else will just be glad to finally have another great Vita game to play.