Super Monkey Ball: Banana Splitz Preview
Super Monkey Ball: Banana Splitz Box Art
System: PS Vita
Dev: Amusement Vision
Pub: SEGA
Release: October 23, 2012
Players: 1
Screen Resolution: 544p Comic Mischief
Banana Splitting Hairs
by Shelby Reiches

Super Monkey Ball began life as a stand-up arcade title, simply called "Monkey Ball." It was also one of the first titles to come out on non-SEGA hardware after they went multiplatform in the wake of the Dreamcast's demise and, to date, one of their most successful experiments from that early era. What other SEGA series has been so consistently successful so as to be a shoe-in on whatever new hardware plops down on the block? It's had entries on the GameCube, the Game Boy Advance, PlayStation 2, original Xbox, Nintendo DS, the Wii, and even a 3D entry on Nintendo's latest handheld, the 3DS (there were also a couple of iOS versions in there somewhere).

Now it's coming to the PlayStation Vita. This should be a natural fit. But why do I say that?

Super Monkey Ball: Banana Splitz Screenshot

The premise of the Super Monkey Ball series is akin to 8-bit classic Marble Madness, in which players would direct a marble as it navigated obstacle-laden levels. In Super Monkey Ball, though, players don't directly control the monkey in the ball, but the level through which it rolls. These levels take the form of obstacle courses filled with bananas, enticing players to not only navigate the difficult loops, slants, and ramps, while avoiding falling off, but to do so while skirting close enough to the edge to pick up precariously placed potassium-enriched fruit. It's a hard knock life for AiAi and his primate companions.

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The Vita is a natural fit for such things because it has a gyroscopic sensor built in (and doesn't have the angle-based viewing pratfall to which the 3DS so often falls prey). Tilting the system to control the stage is very similar to tilting a Wii remote to accomplish the same, which was exactly how Super Monkey Ball Banana Blitz controlled, and that one was sublime (the balance board-based sequel was less so). That said, those who find the tilt controls frustrating or unwieldy can rest easy: the developers are promising that the game will also allow one to control it with the Vita's sticks.

Super Monkey Ball: Banana Splitz Screenshot

Super Monkey Ball games aren't just about their core gameplay, though. It's certainly the focus, but recent entries have been loaded with optional minigames that tend to take advantage of a system's more esoteric features. Banana Blitz, in particular, had dozens of minigames that used the motion controls and IR pointing with varying degrees of success. The vast majority, though, felt tacked on, a waste of gamers' time, and the value of that vast selection was subsequently diminished.

Super Monkey Ball: Banana Splitz aims to avoid that pitfall by condensing its selection down into eight minigames, which will most likely utilize the Vita's various features, including its touchscreen and (presumably) rear touch-panel in what will hopefully be unique and engaging ways.

Super Monkey Ball: Banana Splitz Screenshot

Perhaps more interesting than that, though, is the potential of Super Monkey Ball's first Augmented Reality functionality (and one of the first such implementations on the Vita): By taking a picture of a real-world environment, players can have the game fabricate a brand new level for them, based on or inspired by the image that they used. When this was last seen, late last year, it was less than functional, but if it has improved significantly during the game's extended development, it stands as one of the most compelling uses of a handheld console's camera in recent memory. It's certainly a step up from projecting the game on your table or whatever, that's for sure. Levels created in this way can also be shared with others who own the game (and, of course, a Vita).


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