Tuesday , November 19 2019
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Fun and Frustrating: ‘Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD’ and ‘Dark Devotion’

As of late I’ve been finding myself struggling with two games. Not struggling in terms of making sense of why anyone would make them, but rather in the more literal, “my goodness how do I beat this title… or even just this level” sense. What is truly interesting to me is that both of these games, Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD and Dark Devotion, are retro in their own ways. They belong to be grouped together beyond simply my finding them tough.

Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD, is an update to the, I guess, “classic” (my words) game from 2006. Banana Blitz was initially a Wii title and has been rejiggered with updated graphics and a new mini-game mode and online leaderboards and what-not. Essentially though, the point of the game is to guide your monkey (who, yes, is in a ball) from the start of a level to the end of a level. On the way you pick up bananas mostly because they’re delicious and partly because they give you extra monkeys for when your monkey falls off the path. And, yes, your monkey will fall off the path.

If you’re having trouble picturing the title and are as old school as I am, think back to the halcyon days of physical games and Labyrinth. This was the box-like game where you had to guide a marble from one end of a maze to the other. The marble was maneuvered via two different knobs, one tilting the top plane of the box along the x-axis, and one tilting along the y-axis. The whole thing was made more complicated by there being little holes along the way your marble would fall into causing you to lose.

Yeah, so that’s Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD – you guide your monkey from beginning to end along a course and you

fall off and start again until you run out of monkeys (poor monkeys!). You are kind of making the world move to guide your monkey (rather than moving the monkey itself) but you can also make the monkey jump, so there’s a little bit of monkey business there with the controls.

The game features 100 levels in the main portion, the difficulty increases as you go, and there are bosses along the way whom you have to bounce on or bounce on things to hit the boss or generally monkey around to beat the boss. It isn’t terribly complicated, which is one of the great attractions to the game, but it’s still not terribly easy.

Banana Blitz HD is super fun and it is not in any way easy once you get deeper into the game. The obstacles grow in complexity and the monkeys fall more and more often. Eventually though—if you’re not me—you learn and make your way through it all. If you are me, you get stuck and play for hours and hours on the same level never beating it and eventually trying different monkeys (which have different characteristics) to see if they work better (for me they don’t, for you they might).

The graphics, which as noted have been HD-ified are nothing that will knock your socks off, but they’re bright and colorful enough that they remain charming despite all the monkey falling shenanigans that may or may not make you want to throw your controller at the TV. Happily, I have managed to avoid controller throwing to this point, but there is a level of frustration that can build with the game.

Dark Devotion offers its own sense of frustration as well. A dungeon-crawling platformer where you can’t jump, Dark Devotion sees you playing a warrior who has entered some sort of unholy temple/dungeon/thing with bosses and creepies of all sorts. In one of the developer videos on the game, they swear that you can beat all the bosses just by swinging your sword and dodging at the right time, but that takes someone with far better dexterity than I currently possess.

Most basically, Dark Devotion sees a large map uncovered as you move further along and, much to my chagrin, you are forced in one direction along the map. Dying brings you back to the home base, from which multiple branches stretch out, and there are multiple routes to take once you enter the dungeons, but dying always bring you back to the same spot… empty handed. You can even teleport back to this hub, but always empty-handed. Or at least, empty weapon-, life-, armor-, and shield-ed.

Experience points that are built up and used to gain certain upgrades remain, as do those upgrades once paid for, but if you pick up some sort of awesome necklace that extends your life and then transport yourself back to the hub because you want to try something else, you can kiss that necklace goodbye. Additionally, some weapons, when discovered, will unlock back at the hub so that you can rearm yourself with some stuff before you head back out into the temple. I don’t know if I would describe it as a risk-reward system as there’s not really any reward for returning to the home base but it is a system.

Dark Devotion is, true to its name, a dark and brooding affair, with blood and spikes and traps and fire and all manner of disgusting creature. The graphics are old-school and pixel-y (this is an indie game), but that all adds to the retro feel of the platformer and they more than get the job done.

As with the Souls titles, there isn’t a whole lot of explanation offered on how to do things, so I made the terrible mistake of purchasing all the first level enhancements/upgrades

with my experience points despite the fact that only one can be used at a time. A smarter person would have purchased one at the first level and saved the experience points for upgrades at the second and third and fourth levels (ah, live and learn).

The point of the game, it seems, is to send you off with minimal tools to see how far you can get. Various teleportation spots can be activated within the game, but only one can be open at a time. When you die and return to the hub, you can teleport back to that open spot and nowhere else.

Despite being difficult (or maybe because of it), the game is fun. It is also, as noted, frustrating, but the fun outweighs the frustration and the sense of accomplishment one has when they finally understand the map or beat a boss or learn something new is huge. It won’t knock your socks off, but it will provide hours of enjoyment.

I will not be recommending one of these two games over the other as they are so terribly different, but they both have a lot going for them. Dark Devotion is definitely geared towards an older crowd than Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with either.

About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.

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