Super Monkey Ball Banana Rumble Preview – Bringing back Monkey Ball in 2024

Last month, I had the opportunity to play Super Monkey Ball Banana Rumble, the first new entry in the Super Monkey Ball (SMB) franchise in over a decade. While I went into the demo skeptical that a series that enjoyed its best years in the early-to-mid 2000s could feel like a modern experience in 2024, I emerged from the demo impressed with the gameplay improvements, single-player level design, and the game’s approach to multiplayer (you can read my full preview here).

Shortly after the preview, I had the opportunity to dig deeper into Super Monkey Ball Banana Rumble with several of the developers behind Ryu Ga Gotoku’s franchise to learn how the team worked for Japanese organized crime. The franchise still stays true to its roots.

Up again

Lately, we’ve received a few remakes and remasters, but no new entry in years. Why did the franchise take such a long hiatus?

Nobuhiro Suzuki, Producer: We believe this is the result of a combination of factors. Whether development resources were focused on other big titles, creators leaving the company, sales numbers and more, there was a time when the SMB development line disappeared and production stopped. However, after releasing two remakes, Super Monkey Ball Banana Blitz HD in 2019 and Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania in 2021, and receiving positive feedback from our fans, we decided to release a completely new title, Super Monkey Ball Banana Rumble. We think fans are excited to play this first brand new entry in a decade!

With that unique position in mind, what are the primary goals of Super Monkey Ball Banana Rumble?

NS: After the release of those two remakes, Banana Blitz HD and Banana Mania, our aim is to firmly establish the revival of the SMB franchise with this all-new title. To that end, we set out to make a new entry that firmly inherits or captures the best qualities of previous SMB titles while feeling like an all-new game with 16-player online battles, refined gameplay and character designs and additions. New characters and storyline.

With such a large gap between the last all-new, non-remake/remaster release, are there any updates to design and gameplay best practices that should be applied to this latest entry to ensure it’s modern in 2024?

Daisuke Takahata, Director: Based on data we’ve pulled, such as the number of people who have cleared each world with Banana Mania and comments from various playtests, we’ve updated the game to a level of challenge that new players (as well as longtime fans) will enjoy. Compared to previous titles, the difficulty level of the opening world is now mild (in previous games, things were very difficult from the beginning). We’ve made it so that when you boot up the game for the first time, you’ll be taken to a tutorial that will help you learn how to play the game and use the controls. The same goes for the camera, where we’ve made some minor adjustments to the default settings to help smooth things out. Players will be able to fine-tune these settings in the options menu, which we think longtime fans will appreciate.

The physics in Super Monkey Ball Banana Rumble are good. How did the team check the physics and how did you know you got them right?

Jack Coe, Programmer: Banana Rumble’s physics actually build on those in Banana Frenzy, based on the physics of the original GameCube version. We made special adjustments to the previous game to make the movement workable as a remake, but thanks in part to fan comments, we were made aware of some factors that could contribute to some of the nonsensical behavior caused by physics. Banana Mania. Since Banana Rumble is a new entry in the series and has its own new stages, this time around, we were able to focus on making the moves simpler and more intuitive.

Additionally, the physics system is widely parameterized, meaning designers can make adjustments to its various parts on the fly. As internal testing takes place at least once a week during development, tweaks are made incrementally and as needed. We know we’ve got it right when someone picks it up and can instantly come off as a pro.

Why is Spin Dash such an important addition in this entry? What do you think it adds more to the experience?

NS: In creating this all-new game, we wanted to add the right strategy to give users a wide range of gameplay and challenge. Also, to implement 16-player battles, we need something to really emphasize the user’s strategy so they can overcome the competition. As a result, Spin Dash was implemented. Although Spin Dash is simple to perform, we believe it adds a lot to the game; For beginners, this is a fun feature that allows them to sprint and bounce over obstacles, and for advanced players, it serves as a way to find shortcuts and reach the goal faster. We are very happy with how the players are responding to it.

This question is best asked of the localization team, but since the Super Monkey Ball franchise relies on puns and words associated with bananas, the team called it “Spin Dash?” Consider calling it “peel out” instead?

NS: To be honest, we didn’t think about it. (Laughs) We wanted it to be easy for users to understand just by looking at the name, so we made it straightforward as “Spin Dash”.

When creating levels in adventure mode, what factors should be considered to create an effective level?

Yukio Oda, Designer: As for “what elements”, our basic idea is to combine “various elements” in a complex and effective way. For example, if we break down a step into smaller pieces, you can see that a “path” includes various elements such as “thickness,” “curve,” “slope,” “travel path,” and so on. Depending on how these parts are combined, the level can be easy or difficult, interesting or boring. The Monkey Ball team has a lot of expertise in these combinations, all gathered over the years with the series, and we always aim to create an interesting stage based on that knowledge. But the first step in creating a single platform starts with the platform designer’s inspiration.

How does the team balance fun with challenge when designing levels?

Yo: Levels created by our stage designers are regularly played by dozens of people both inside and outside the team. Not only do we take different opinions, but we also analyze data on percentages of clear rates and times, and we’re constantly making adjustments to make the steps even better. We strongly know that the Monkey Ball series is characterized by the contrast between the easiest levels and the most challenging levels. Sometimes, if a playtester deems a level “too hard”, there are times when we leave it as is. However, after launch, we are always pleasantly surprised when we see users uploading videos showing how they were able to complete the most difficult steps with ease.

The levels I played were very enjoyable and sometimes overwhelming, but they were in the first two worlds. How wild should players expect the challenges in Adventure Mode to be?

DT: We’re glad you enjoyed the early stages of the game! As we announced, Banana Rumble’s Adventure Mode will feature 200 new levels, all spread across different worlds. Final World, in particular, has a variety of exciting gimmicks waiting for players, challenging even fans who started with previous titles. Stay tuned for a “very wild” challenge!

Can you talk me through the process of designing Battle Modes? They bring such enjoyable twists on the Super Monkey Ball formula, and I’ve always found the minigames/side modes to be just as enjoyable as the main adventure mode.

Yo: Thank you very much! When it comes to the game design of Battle Mode, we paid a lot of attention to how “control” and “sense of speed” are expressed during gameplay, as they are the main characteristics of this series. We have taken care to ensure that the skills players have learned and improved by playing through Adventure Mode can also be used in Battle Mode. A key feature of this game is the emphasis on “ease of understanding” – basically, we’ve made sure not to overcomplicate the rules while adding any twists, so players can enjoy themselves.

Where would you like to see the Super Monkey Ball franchise evolve from here? Do you think there is room for multiple releases in a shorter time window than what we have seen in recent eras?

NS: First, as a basic premise, we will continue the fun and originality that the SMB series is known for and make sure that SMB fans can thoroughly enjoy their time with it. On top of that, we want to evolve the series to a level that includes a variety of exciting new modes that are completely unique to Sega. With the support of our players, we believe we will be able to continue releasing new games regularly. We really appreciate everyone’s support for Super Monkey Ball Banana Rumble and the Super Monkey Ball series!

Super Monkey Ball Banana Rumble arrives on Switch on June 25. For more on the upcoming series revival, head here to read our full, hands-on impressions.

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