Marble Madness

Marble Madness - Title Screen

Marble Madness (1991)
By: Atari / Electronic Arts Genre: Platform / Puzzle Players: 1-2 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Sega MegaDrive / Genesis
Also Available For: Arcade, Master System, NES, GameBoy, GameBoy Advance, PC, Amiga, Atari ST, C64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, Apple IIGS

Originally released in the world’s arcades in 1984, Marble Madness was another cracker from the then red-hot Atari. At least, that’s what you’d be forgiven for thinking, given the game’s popularity. In truth, it was a competent enough arcade game for its time, but somewhat less suitable as 16-bit console release seven years later. Marble Madness, you see, is a very simple game – you control a marble which you have to guide to the end of the level or ‘goal’ within a strict time limit. Achieve this and you’ll get to tackle the next level. Each level is viewed from a 3D isometric perspective and is set on a series of raised platform sections. The surface of these levels is far from even though – it leans at all manner of angles, and ramps, chutes, bridges, and other such things also adorn the landscape and must be traversed in order to succeed.

Marble Madness - Gameplay Screenshot 1

Many obstacles and hazards also hinder your progress. Chief among these are the Steelies – evil black marbles which will try to bump you off the side of the level at every opportunity they get. You can bump them back and even off the side of level, but it all costs you time. Other enemies include Marble Munchers, Hoovers, Acid Slime, Terrordactyls, Hammers and Pistons, all of which cost you precious seconds. If your marble falls off the side of a level, takes too high a drop, or falls victim to one of the traps, you’ll lose it. You have an infinite number of marbles but losing marbles costs time, so it’s best not to make a habit of it! Very helpful in certain situations is the turbo button. This will cause your marble to travel faster and is often the difference between a crushed marble and a victorious marble, but you’ll also run the risk of whizzing straight off the edge!

Marble Madness - Gameplay Screenshot 2

And that’s about it! As I said, it’s a simple game. The problem here is that this conversion is pretty much identical to the arcade version. “But that’s a good thing!” I hear you cry. Usually, yes, but no effort has been made here to improve on the arcade game – something that was more than possible in light of the MegaDrive’s 16-bit mega-power. Initially, Marble Madness is good fun, though somewhat frustrating, but you’ll probably just be getting into it only to find – it’s over! That’s right – Marble Madness has a mere six levels. This was just about passable for an arcade game, but a home console game? I don’t know about you but I demand more for my £40! What there is of the game plays nicely enough though, and the graphics, whilst hardly pushing the MegaDrive to its limits (you would have a tough time telling this version apart from the Master System version!), are decent enough. As is the case with many isometrically viewed games, the landscape is covered in a grid-like pattern and looks neat and tidy and organised and everything. Each level is fairly colourful but there’s nothing much else of note.

Marble Madness - Gameplay Screenshot 3

Possibly the most horririfying thing about this game is the ‘music’. Examples featured herein range from poor right down to ghastly I’m afraid. Some of it can barely be considered music! The only reprieve is on level two which features a fairly reasonable tune, although it is looped and frequently repeated. Sound effects aren’t much better either. I don’t usually like to criticise someone’s hard work too much unless it’s obvious that they’ve put in no effort, but this one will have you reaching for the volume button pretty quickly. At least there is both music AND effects though I suppose! Regarding the gameplay – as I mentioned earlier, what there is of it is decent enough – ball movement is satisfactory and the levels, though frustrating on occasion, are pretty well designed for the most part but, as mentioned, there’s only six levels in this game. Six! It’s not as if they’re long ones either – I’ve completed this game in less than ten minutes, and it can be done in less than five! To think that some Playstation-licking casual gamers complain when a game can be completed in a ‘mere’ ten hours! The existence of a simultaneous two-player mode here livens up proceedings a little, and can be fun for a short while, particularly if the two players decide to try and take each other out, but that’s really the only reason to play this more than once.

Marble Madness - Gameplay Screenshot 4

So there you have it. A legend, right or wrong, which was an enjoyable five-minute diversion in the arcades, but as a MegaDrive game it just isn’t enough. If there was, say, 30 or 40-odd levels on offer here, this would be a pretty good game, maybe even a great one, but a six-level game that can be seen in its entirety in five minutes is unacceptable. A good idea, but there’s just not enough to Marble Madness, unfortunately.

RKS Score: 4/10

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Simon Lethbridge

Hello. :) I'm a 38 year old nerd from England, and I like lots of stuff, including retro video games, movies, sci-fi, and anime. This is the place where I will blabber on about them! At the very least, it will give me an excuse to try games/films that I keep putting off. Hope you like reading it! :)