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Marble Madness was originally an arcade game, one that really shows its age. Released in 1984, MM was soon ported to both Sega Megadrive and the Nintendo Gameboy, being far more stable and better controlled versions of the game. Straight away though, the game screams at you with an appallingly loud synth introduction song. It offends your ears and would probably make your pets go mad. You get to choose either 1 or 2 player games (and options), both of which include similar maps and only occasionally vary to include new routes for your guest player. The actual gameplay is incredibly easy, making use of only the directional pad to steer your marble across a landscape of squares, ramps and hills - all patrolled by devious little enemies. Your objective? Navigate through the maps to get to the finish line - simple. What makes it difficult is the measly control you have over the marble as they've tried to make it realistic in the way it moves, being laboured and rolling all over the place. That and the background music is whimsically stupid, another aspect to put you off.
Silly metaphorical obstacles include:
fists that punch you in the marbles
hoovers that can suck your marbles
puddles of acid that dissolve your marbles
black marbles that like to clash with yours
slinky's that knock your marbles about a bit
The difficulty of the mundane task at hand is increased when the maps become more fiddly with thin pathways and several cliffs to fall from. Bridges rise and fall to distract you, catapults launch you across segments of the maps, drainpipes escort you to lower levels and should you fall from a small height, you'll get dizzy and controls wobble, fall from a great height and your marble breaks. When you 'die' your marble is replaced to where it was last considered safe, giving you multiple continues and gaining points for faster level completion. The multiplayer aspect is far more appealing as you and your mate can really put each other off in the race to the finish line. The floors in which you roll about, vary greatly, making certain shortcuts riskier with tough angles and making use of momentum. Off course you can always change the difficulty from normal, to easy or hard. I'm sure in its prime, it was an addictive and fresh game, but now it looks dated and is best suited to hand held consoles.
A classic frustrating release from Atari Games Corporation, Marble Madness involves guiding a heavy glass marble across a raised course of obstacles and adversaries against the clock. The game is based on an isometric grid, viewing the events diagonally, a format later used by RPGs in the vein of Diablo, and games boasting to be three-dimensional, such as the terrible Sonic 3D which basically replaced the marble sprite with a hedgehog. Numerous tricky obstacles and enemies with varying degrees of intelligence and randomness attempt to impede your red marbles innocent progress through the race, which can also be taken head-to-head with a second blue player, but the game generously provides an unlimited supply of lives/marbles, making the valuable seconds wasted on falling into oblivion, shattering from a short fall or being swallowed by weird green slimy slinky things the only concern.
This game is perfectly suited as a time filler between more serious exercises, as game length for the average player wont exceed a few minutes. Each level is relatively short, though long and convoluted enough that the goal wont be in sight until the marble is almost on top of it, and as expected the difficulty increases between each of the six stages as nastier obstacles are introduced, while the sharpness of right angle U-turns and the gradient of narrow slopes are menacingly increased. The game is based largely on realistic physics, or rather programmer Michael Schwartzs best attempt to replicate it; the exception being in the fourth level which intentionally inverts the gravity, and proceeds from the lowest point upwards, unlike the other five stages. The momentum certainly feels genuine, as the player very soon becomes accustomed to the implied heaviness of the marble, but there are a few too many inconsistencies to make it truly believable, particularly the way in which the marble smashes when rolled into a relatively narrow drop, but only becomes dazed when catapulted across the screen or bounced. The reproduction of gravity is authentic enough, as the marble rolls on its own momentum along tilted platforms, but this is nothing that contemporary pinball games hadnt already cracked, especially those by Digital Illusions.
The title screen boasts a number of options to extend the lifespan of the game as far as possible, the most relevant of which is the two-player option. A competitive race, the game plays exactly as it does for one player, but now the camera that usually follows player one will centre on whichever marble is in the lead. If the lagging marble ends up so far behind that its off the screen, sometimes occurring because the players decide to take different routes, it is simply zapped to a position near the leading marble and given a five second penalty. Each player has their own time limit and score on the top left and right corners of the screen, and the loser is removed from play after their time runs out, leaving the winner to continue the game as normal, making the loser watch in a bored manner. The two player game is more enjoyable than the single player and its great that it was incorporated in this competitive manner, rather than a turn-taking process that would be tedious and pointless. Its not so much fun playing against your very young brother, but when players are evenly matched and confident it can be made as competitive or cooperative as they wish, with lots of swearing.
The original arcade game was based on a unique trackball, but in home versions, the only controls needed for the game are the four directional buttons left, right, up and down of a joypad, or the corresponding movements of a joystick or keyboard. A start or fire button equivalent is only needed to get past the title screen and start the game, which requires only that the player move the marble in the eight directions of the compass, making extensive use of diagonal movements (pressing up and right at the same time, for instance). The controls soon become familiar, if frustrating and fiddly as the game intends, and I wouldnt recommend the alternative grid option for movement that can be selected from the title screen, as it requires the player to see through the angled perspective and control the game as if it were presented as a straight-on plan view. Difficulty can be changed between normal, easy and hard, the only difference being in the time granted to finish the first race (after the practice race): the normal game gives 75 seconds, the easy game 80 seconds, and the hard game only 60 seconds. The time limit of additional levels is calculated based on the time remaining at the end of the previous stage, making it a very tricky downward spiral for most players.
As with most games of the time, ability and success are measured primarily in points, the game asking for your name after you break the comparatively easy high score barrier of 14,500. Points are awarded simply for moving across the game screen, jumping up by 10 with each movement, but the biggest scores come from completing levels in impressive time. As all but the most competitive minded, maths-loving player will know, the real sense of satisfaction comes from beating the early levels and reaching previously unseen areas (often for about five seconds before the time runs out and its Game Over), and the varying colour schemes and layouts of each level give a strong incentive to see whats coming next. Each stage, initially, brings new nasties, from the evil black marble that seems intent on bouncing the player into pits, often sacrificing its own life in kamikaze fashion to ensure its success, to the less destructible green slime that slithers its way around the floor, or slinks in a circle looking for marbles to pounce upon. Elsewhere, vacuum cleaners spring to attention without warning and suck down your entrails, vicious right angles make skidding to a halt impossible, and bouncers throw your momentum right off. Pipes, bridges and springs offer a dangerous helping hand.
The graphics themselves are very simplistic, seeming to use no more than 32 shades (this is just an uninformed guess, it could easily be 16) but animating the movements of the bright green enemies remarkably smoothly. Its always easy to tell the enemies straight away, and although by its very nature the exact composition and angling of the grey floor can be a little harder to spot, it at least avoids the horrible bright colours found elsewhere in the game, especially the offensive turquoise. It seems that graphical limitations prevented the artists from taking a wholly realistic approach, introducing little gags like dizzy stars for a minor fall and a dustpan and brush hastily sweeping away the shattered remains for something more major, and it would have been nice to see something resembling a genuine marble run attempted. Similarly, the lifespan of the game would have been vastly extended if additional levels of the same difficulty were included that could be played instead, rather than the exact same order each time.
Marble Madness is a fast and fun puzzle game that likely exists in many forms for free on the internet today, so its a little strange to imagine paying twenty pounds or more for it in 1991. The artificial gravity and bouncy, rubbery walls make it more of an adrenaline-fuelled survival game than a simple race for no reason (or for points, which equates to no reason when playing on a read-only Sega cartridge that cant save them), and like most games that offer a two-player option, it adds to the enjoyment. The last and certainly least aspect to cover is the games music and sound, fairly unimportant to the gameplay and probably composed by Steve Hayes at the last minute. The only major sound effects are the wheee of the marble falling to its death, a sound that is repeated again and again as the levels become more difficult, along with some boings and smashes. The basic synthesised melodies are the usual puzzle game fair: oddly jolly sounding and distracting for the large part, especially in the orange aerial level which features a repeated organ strike thats really off-putting, and perhaps an error (I honestly cant tell). Even though I almost always play the game on mute outside of this review, I still blame this irritating music for my lack of progress on that particular level. Its the musics fault Im so rubbish.
This game was made by Milton Bradley and came out in 1991 for the Nes and other consoles. It does not really have a specific role and is a one or two player 2 Simultaneous game. The idea of the game is simply get to the finish line before the time runs out. Or beat your opponent in two player mode. Easier said than done. The game has six different rounds in the Nes version. Whilst other console versions such as the Game Gear version, had more levels. The first four rounds you have to get to the bottom of the round. However in the fifth race you have to get to the top. Since that is the silly round and everything is backwards. The las round which is number six, is set up in space and you have to get to the middle of the round. You have to quickly do each round as the seconds get carried over to the next round. So the quicker you finish each round the more time you will have to do the next round. You are also giving bonus seconds but not a lot. So basicly you might get only five seconds to do the last round. Whilst if your quick you might get 60 seconds. In each round are a few enemies but not a lot. They dont do anything really except jump about on the spot and are very easily avoided. Some parts have hoovers that try to blow you over. If you are speeding through a round, a magic wand gives you an extra five seconds bonus. Also in two player mode who ever finishes the round first get five seconds more. The graphics are pretty good but not anything exciting. The tunes are good with a few in the game. Gameplay is great if you play against a second player