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Marble Madness

Electronic Arts 1991

Sega Genesis


The late 80s was an excellent time for arcade games. There was a time when one could find arcade games that didn't involve fighting, driving, or shooting. This particular game involves rolling a marble through various surreal obstacles, the end result is one of the most original and refreshing arcade games in history.

The premise of the game is simple: Race two marbles down a hill while avoiding various obstacles. It's in the type and execution of said obstacles where the genius of this game is revealed. Each level is made up of a bizarre checkerboard playing field arranged in a 3/4ths pseudo 3D view. You pilot your marble down ramps and over jumps, while avoiding evil vacuums, pools of acid, strange marble eating creatures, wavy floor traps, and the dreaded evil black marble who's sole existence is to put an end to yours.

This game doesn't work on a "lives" system, instead it's set up similar to racing games, where you have a certain amount of time to get through each increasingly difficult course. Falling off a ledge, getting smashed, dissolved, eaten, or swept up by a vacuum results merely in lost time. Run out of time and it's game over. There are occasional special powerups that allow you to shrink and crush the various enemies for time bonuses, but these are few and far between.

In addition to various enemy types you also have to deal with unique obstacles and environmental hazards. Each course has several steep ramps, jumps, and narrow zigzagging ledges to get through, as well as teleporting floor pipes, shortcuts, wavy conveyor belt-like contraptions, catapults, etc. Finding the right way through each of these without running out of time is challenging but still manages to remain fun.

Biggest let down to this game is simply that there isn't enough of it. You get five courses of increasing difficulty, all of which can be conquered with a bit of practice, and after which doesn't leave you with much incentive for replay. There is however a 2 player competitive racing mode (true to the arcade.)

The good stuff: Controls for this particular version are as good as any. Your marble has a realistic sense of inertia without getting out of hand. Graphics are pretty close to the arcade, just a slight loss in color and animation.

Bad stuff: Any control flaws with this version lie in the original flaws with the arcade game. The fact that arcade style roller ball control does not easily translate well to a digital cross pad doesn't help either, and it takes a bit of doing to learn how well the ball reacts to your input.

Graphics: Clear and accurate, a bit of color and animation loss from the arcade but not so much that you'd notice it.

Sound: Takes a hit from the arcade game. Deep, bassy sounds here are somewhat "tinny." Some of the music is pretty annoying, but it was like that in the arcade version also.

Gameplay: A strange mixture of racing and puzzle game. The challenge lies in learning the pattern of obstacles and seeing the safest and fastest way to get through them, which is surprisingly addictive.

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