Midway Arcade Origins

midway arcade origins

Nostalgia can be extremely arresting.  Can a gamer ever return to the feeling experienced when first taking out the Death Star in Star Wars, smashing multiple baddies with a single rock in Dig-Dug, or playing a flawless board of Ms. Pac Man?

midway arcade origins

Gamer nostalgia is also conjured by environments and contexts.  I’m sure most middle aged gamers have swapped stories from their youth about visiting the local arcade (remember those?) to plunk some quarters in their favorite machines. In those golden years, we played for nothing but score and bragging rights, and we were fascinated by graphics that were so remarkable that they couldn’t yet be reproduced on our home systems or personal computers.  I used to beg my father to take me to the PX on base (military brat, represent) so that I could play one of my retro favorites—the cartoonish cop chase game A.P.B.  It was my fond memory of this 1987 relic that led me toward Midway Arcade Origins. I do not regret the purchase.  At the same time, some of the classic titles within this trove of 30+ games simply don’t reignite the longing to play arcade games that I fondly remember from my childhood.

midway arcade origins

The first problem with the compilation is that some of the classic control schemes just don’t translate to modern joypads.  720 is a prime example. In my youth, I would eagerly line my quarters on top of the black-and white-checkered plastic control panel assembly, but without the circle-locked joystick on the arcade cabinet, the game is almost unplayable.  Too much die, not enough skate.  The same unfortunately applies to A.P.B., a game that is dysfunctional sans its steering wheel and pedals.  Granted, you can still get some enjoyment out of the titles, but they just aren’t the same without the respective racing wheels and other cabinet specific peripherals.

midway arcade origins

Unfortunately, there is also a lot of useless filler in the compilation.  The less you remember about Pit-Fighter, Xenophobe, and arguably the worst sequel of all time, Spy Hunter 2, the better.   In light of these weak choices, I found myself wondering why Paperboy, NARC, and Roadblasters were left out.  All three were extremely popular Midway titles from my youth, and all three could have easily made the compilation exponentially better, especially since Paperboy is no longer available on Xbox Live Arcade.

midway arcade origins

Thankfully I was able to get a lot of enjoyment out a few of the included offerings.  Joust and Joust 2 hold up extremely well, as do Satan’s Hollow, Robotron 2084, Spy Hunter, Rampage, and both Gauntlet games (just don’t shoot the food!). Two titles I’d never played before, Wizard of Wor and Bubbles, ended up being my favorites.  Smash TV and its sequel Total Carnage also play well with a modern controller, and they still serve as a reminder that most of these games were simply designed to get one more quarter out of the pocket of your Kangaroos.  This is certainly a staunch contrast from the “save anywhere, unlimited lives” mentality that permeates game design today.

Leaderboards are also included so you can still appreciate how badly you perform compared to other hardcore retro gamers.  Further, multiplayer is offered on any title that traditionally supported it.   While the limitations of portable console gaming and the omission of certain titles does make the compilation feel a bit incomplete, the game isn’t a bad purchase if you are looking to scratch that retro itch. Just don’t expect most of the games to play like they did when you were waiting in line behind that skeevy dude in the Iron Maiden t-shirt to get one more crack at Sinistar.

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

Eitan Glinert: Fire Hose Games

Fire Hose Games logo

Name: Eitan Glinert

Company: Fire Hose Games

Profession: Creative Director and Fire Chief

Favorite Classic Game: (Can’t pick just one) Marble Madness and Lemmings

Quote: Marble Madness was one of the best games ever created, and is STILL fun today more than two decades later. I used to play on the Amiga 2000 with my older sister; she preferred the mouse, while I preferred the obviously superior joystick. The game was ridiculously hard, and between the “Silly” 5th level and the “Ultimate” 6th level it taught me the meaning of frustration.


Lemmings was a fantastic time sink; some of the later levels were some of the best designed puzzles I’ve ever seen. I used to stay up late coming up with strategies for how to beat certain levels with my dad (he always had better ideas than me, but hey I was 6!)