Friday 11 September 2015

Marble Madness (NES review)

Developer: Rare
Publisher: Milton Bradley
Released: 1989

Marble Madness is a ball rolling game that was first released in the Arcades in 1984.

There's six levels and the objective is to roll your marble to the goal within the allotted time. You have an unlimited number of marbles but falling off the edge or being captured by an enemy will cause you to lose precious seconds. Failing to reach the goal results in a Game Over but if you're successful any remaining time will be carried over to the next level. Along the way you'll have to contend with narrow pathways, enemies that try to knock you off and traps such as disappearing platforms. However, you can perform a speed boost by pressing the A button which can be useful for evading enemies or racing towards the finish line. There are a few shortcuts that can shave seconds off your time but they're usually very risky! The gameplay reminds me of an old toy called Screwball Scramble as you move your ball around and deal with environmental hazards against the clock. The controls are surprisingly tight and respond well to your inputs which is quite an achievement considering the Arcade version used a trackball; there's even an option where you can play with the controller sideways! The levels start off easy enough but things soon get tricky with vacuums that suck you in and balls that try to bump you. I love that there's multiple routes in some areas so you can experiment to see which path is faster. The main problem with the game is that if you master all six levels it can be beaten in around five minutes! There's a great two player racing mode to keep you occupied for a bit longer but the single player experience is woefully anaemic and leaves you wanting more levels with larger, sprawling areas.

Marble Madness is an excellent port of the Arcade classic but it's puzzling why more levels weren't added to update this five-year-old game. It controls great and you'll have fun seeing how far you can advance but once you've mastered the game it gives you no reason to keep playing.

Random trivia: A sequel called Marble Man: Marble Madness II was planned for release in the Arcades in 1991 but was ultimately cancelled.

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