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Marble Madness

Year released: 1988
Company: Milton Bradley
Genre: Action/Puzzle

To continue the recent wave of games striking a nerve with me and recovering some of their original shine is this nifty little ditty from the folks from Milton Bradley. It also holds the distinction of being one of the two cartridges I got with my NES in the Christmas of '88. (The other game was RC Pro-Am) Reminiscing aside, I finally managed to beat this sucker only a week prior to this review, and now I'm ready to bestow this game with the title of my favorite Quick Play.1 In short, it's a game that you can really enjoy once you get the hang of it.

The premise of the game is this: You control a marble, and are rationed a certain amount of time to clear a race (usually about 5 screen-widths tall) filled with obstacles, pits, enemies, and so forth. Falling into a pit or from too high a level, or running into to certain enemies cost you a marble and a couple seconds of time. You're supplied with infinite marbles, but once that clock hits 00, it's game over. Not much storyline is given, but maybe that's just as well - I don't think a whole epic written about marbles would be very plausible.

I can't review the presentation of the game without being a little biased. You see, before I saw the NES version, I saw the exact same game on the Amiga. Needless to say, the Amiga version's audiovisuals could put the NES to shame. Still, to say that the graphics and music aren't reasonably done would be unfair. The view is isometric, and done quite well thanks to remarakable shading. The real drawback is that the track doesn't have much in terms of detail, but it also adds a little to the abstract atmosphere that this game has. The music is by-and-large innocuous, with the exception of the nicely done Beginner race theme. My only gripe is that the bass track tends to get out of synch after spending a lot of time on one specific race. Still, if you come across this problem, you most likely don't have much time left.

The Play Control of the game is almost perfect. For one thing, they compensate for the 45-degree view of the game by offering two different control schemes: One in which you control the marble as you see it (In other words, pushing down will send the marble straight down), and one in which your controls are skewed, so that your marble moves at the same angle as the track is laid. I personally prefer the 45-degree setting, that's the point; you can pick the controls to your liking. The marble decelerates slowly if the control pad is neutral, but push in the opposite direction and you have a perfect set of brakes.

The main turnoff for the first 9 years that I played this game was that it was simply too hard. The last two races give you only 20 seconds for you to complete them. Of course, any time left over from the previous race is carried over to the next, thus you will get more than 20 seconds overall, plus every so often a magic wand blesses your marble with an extra 10 seconds of time (although I wish its parameters for showing up were less random). Thus, with a little practice, getting through every race shouldn't be too tough. In fact, I challenge everyone out there to beat my time. I beat this game with 23 seconds left - without a wand bonus.

So, a game that originally was too short for its own turns its compactness from a curse into a blessing. How so? Once again, it's a terrific Quick Play. Seeing how you get a total of 230 seconds to clear all 3 races - that's less than 4 minutes - you can start this game during a Celine Dion video and get back without missing a beat.2 Also, you can pop a Game Genie and play for precision, trying to beat the game with as few deaths as possible. Trust me, that's just as difficult as playing for speed.

So, yet again, a second look transforms what was originally an onverly short game into a game that has made my standard rotation the last week or two. It's certainly worth a look if you can get your hands on a copy.

1 By definition, a Quick Play is a game in which one can play a full game and make average to complete progress in under 15 minutes.

2 Musicians I hate: Marilyn Manson, Puff Daddy, Oasis, Celine Dion. Can't stand her. She's so humble she's arrogant. And if I hear "Once more, you opened the door..." one more time, I'm going to club the first person I see.

Overall Ratings:

Play Control:
Technical Score: 15
Plot: Exempt
Challenge: (Hard)
Thrill: (Frustrating)
Aesthetic Score: 14
Overall Score: 81%

You are now listening to the Beginner Race Music to Marble Madness.