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Saturday, November 19, 2011

Game 7 - Marble Madness

System: Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)
Release Date: 1984 (1986 to Nintendo)
Genre: Platform/Racing
Publisher: Atari Games (Rare)

For Starters:

Ledges and out!
    Marble Madness is a simple enough concept. Race a marble through a 3D environment, and try to beat the clock. As a child, I loved playing with marbles, and especially loved making courses for them to run through. I remember my grandparents having a plastic cube, that was actually a marble maze, that required you to drop a marble in one end, then rotate the cube around, guiding the marble through the inner workings of the maze, and out the hole on the opposite side. So when I saw Marble Madness on the Nintendo, I was at once captivated by it. As with most of the early Nintendo games I played, this captivation was short-lived.
    Marble Madness was originally developed in 1984 for Atari, and was later ported to the NES by Rare Limited in 1986. I bring this up only because of the fact that the NES version of this game is the only one I have ever played. I imagine that the controls for the Atari (i.e. trackball) would make game play a lot easier than the awkward game play one experiences using the D-pad found on the NES console. If using a D-Pad on a 3D game isn't challenging enough, the game also allows you to select from two different control options, those being 90 degrees and 45 degrees. Since the game grid was set at a 45 degree angle, as it relates to the television screen, the 90 degree control option simply meant that the ball itself would move left/right/up/down as it correlated with the same directions on the controllers d-pad. The 45 degree control option meant that those same directions on the d-pad would correlate to the grid on the screen, making the game a little more challenging.

The Good:

    Since my starting points pretty much cover most of the important points of this game, I still feel it necessary to not deviate from my standard format. Simply put, the best aspects of this game have to be the fact that it's a marble game. There is no denying that this game, while short, is very challenging. But then again, the physical cube I played with as a kid was also challenging, so it's a wash. The graphics, while basic, are decent. The 3-D feel of this game is really amazing, and the virtual world in witch you maneuver through was captured well by the developers.
    As far as the actual game play is concerned, the better aspects of this game are definitely the real-world physics that were incorporated. Should you move to close to the edge, gravity will take over and you will fall off the ledge, and with a large enough drop, your marble will actually break in to tiny pieces, that are then swept up by a little broom and dust pan animation....actually quite clever. There are speed boosters in some of the further levels, that are fun to try and hit, and the various obstacles, such as the vacuumes that pop up and suck your marble down the pipe,are just plain fun.
    Another fun factor is the game's 2 player mode. Race your friends through the various stages, all while trying to avoid the various pitfalls and obstacles. Add on the fact that you can bump each other off the track, and you have a recipe for a fun and friendly competition.

The Bad:

    I realize I am about to contradict myself a little bit in this section, but hey, I never claimed to be perfect. The same aspects of Marble Madness that are fun, are also a big part of what make the game frustrating. Honestly the biggest enemy in this game is time itself. As mentioned, each track is timed, and if you don't reach the finish line in time, you are done. Your other biggest enemy will be yourself. I found myself getting panicked when the time was running out, and would always end up trying to hurry too much, and would inevitably make a panicked mistake.
    The obstacles themselves, while fun, and innovating, are also very frustrating. Amongst them are, the marble-eating worms, and the roving pools of acid. That's right, there are roving pools of acid that will melt your ball, hammers that try and smash you to smithereens while navigating a narrow path with drop-offs on both sides, and a myraid of other hazards all out to get you. Good luck.


    Marble Madness captured a childhood fascination, and brought it in to the video game realm. Oh sure, pinball machines, had the corner of this market sewn up years before Nintendo even existed, but who has the money or space to put multiple pinball machines in their house? I love pinball, but let's face it, any pinball video game I have ever seen has failed to recreate the experience of playing an actual pinball machine. Enter Marble Madness. While different from a pinball machine style of play, it captured the same elements that made playing with marbles in real life fun. Oh sure, the frustrations associated with trying to beat the clock and win will eventually cause you to shelve the game, and let a few colorful expletives fly from your mouth, all while swearing you will never play the damn thing ever again. But you will eventually forgive and forget, and find yourself once again reaching for this old friend. It will be enjoyed even more so if you can find someone to play the 2 player mode with. After all, what's more fun than beating your friends?