What’s your favorite game franchise in need of a revival? We all have one or two series we’d like to see return, and often, we’d be happy to take whatever remaster or re-release we can get rather than hold out for the ideal circumstances.
But what if what we could get is significantly less than ideal? What if… it’s arguably the worst game in the series?
Fans of Super Monkey Ball are wrangling with just that scenario, as Sega’s return for AiAi, GonGon and friends is an update of 2006’s Wii launch title, Banana Blitz. For those less familiar, this is like Tony Hawk returning with an upscaled Downhill Jam or Fable coming back with a new version of Kinect release The Journey. The first two Monkey Ball games are generally regarded as classics, and there are even diehard fans of the Game Boy Advance release. There’s even a “greatest hits” compilation, Deluxe, that would be the ideal target for an update.
But no, we’re getting Banana Blitz, with its complete lack of focus and stages that leaned more toward frustration than challenge. It’s considered by many to be the beginning of the end of the franchise, as it was followed by cheap updates and mobile ports that didn’t do very much.
Perhaps, though, that’s exactly why we’re getting it? As an early Wii game, it sold well, and it likely has a more modern code base than its predecessors to make the process easier. But more importantly, it’s a fundamentally fixable game, one that doesn’t really risk disappointing people. Unlike changes in projects such as Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD, the newly-implemented traditional controls replacing remote tilting and the pared-down minigame offering to make it easier to find the actually-good ones likely won’t run into as much backlash. Fans think this game can be improved. Sega thinks this game can be improved. It’s happening, and maybe this time it’ll be enough to make it fun for you to play.
If we instead were getting Deluxe, would people be as happy as they think to replay the stages they already enjoyed? Would they be too busy nitpicking slight control differences? Would they feel fatigue at doing the same thing they’ve already spent time returning to the old discs to play while they waited? This approach instead offers a “new to you” sort of experience, without the full investment of designing hundreds of stages and with an increased chance that Sega will actually find some profit in the endeavor.
Other franchises should probably keep an eye on how this project turns out. Maybe Nintendo could make some smart tweaks and give new life to Star Fox Zero and Sony can revisit Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One. We’ll see if it works as intended, but giving Banana Blitz more usable (and forgiving) controls could do wonders for its levels and modes, and similar “simple” fixes could do the same for other games with a lot of content and some barriers to enjoying it. (These changes certainly aren’t trivial, but generating assets is a huge expense, and any project that mostly reuses art and code is inevitably a lot more manageable.)
For now, though, Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD has to prove itself as a smart business call, and since choosing something like this doesn’t do a lot to build buzz with existing fans, it has a tough road ahead.