It’s always difficult in reviewing games that have personal meaning to the reviewer – it may be the fact it was the first game you ever played, or the game you played with your best pal when you pinkie swore you’d be friends forever and start braiding each other’s hair before the midnight pillow fight. Well for myself, gladly it was the first reason rather than the second reason, though I can’t deny it is tempting to braid and style my hair. Although in the vague recollections of some long gone psyche the image of Mario and the bright blue sky is etched, the first game I ever played properly was Marble Madness, originally in arcade from 1984 but ported to the Nintendo Entertainment System later on in the 80’s. So taking off the rose-tinted glasses how does the game fare up today, will it drive you to madness or fine as Italian marble?
Marble Madness can be described as a platform game of sorts, in which the player controls a marble around courses and levels in order to get to the finish line before the time runs out. And that’s it really, there’s no end bosses to squish by rolling over them just you and your reflexes as quick as a feral cat on heat finding some tail. There are certain enemies as such that will do everything possible to delay your progress through the level, however what will impede your progress is the physicalities and dynamics of the level starting with ramps or hammers that attack you, through to nuclear green liquid that will melt the marble on its way to the end of the level.
So you start the game up, and your presented with the option to play with 1 player, or if you’ve got your buddy with you then you can play 2 player. The beauty of the 2 player option is that unlike other games on the console which has 2 player features but you have to take it in turns doing a level each, in Marble Madness you play simultaneously together on the same screen. If one player reaches the next portion of the screen before the other, than the losing marble is magically teleported to where the winning marble is located, however they are deducted 5 seconds from their time. The winner of the race gets an additional 5 seconds added onto the start of the next level, so it is worth going mano y mano with your compadre for bragging rights. However when you start the game you get to choose your name, upto 6 characters so be creative with the obscenities you write! Then choose the control type, be this at a 90 degree control method or 45 degree method, to which after that away you go on level 1. With 6 levels of ever-increasing difficulty, it certainly is a game where the more you play, the easier you’ll race through the levels and enjoy it the more you play it.
The controls for the game are very simple, and very fluid at that. All that is required is the d-pad to move the marble through the level. As mentioned previously after you’ve chosen your name you can choose the control type – 90 or 45 degrees. The main difference is with 90 degrees the marble will go in the direction of the d-pad, so if you press down the marble goes down, left and right etc. With 45 degrees pressing down makes the marble go diagonal down-left, pressing right makes it go down, so depending on how big a challenge you like, I would recommend playing the game at a 90 degree control setting. The graphics are bold and colourful, especially on a later level entitled Silly which features polka dots and a wacky colour palette. It certainly is a treat for the eyes, and for the ears it’s nothing but fresh and funky all the way in all its 8 bit glory, so no need to put on that Celine Dion album just yet.
So all in all, is Marble Madness a worthy first game memory? Is it worth adding to the collection? Well to answer both questions, yes and definitely yes. The gameplay is smooth and simple, yet later on in the game gets challenging so lots of practice is required. What is good is that it doesn’t take long to get to the later levels, so although there is no password system to reach the later levels, by persevering you’ll certainly go far and complete the game. Even if you don’t have hours to spend playing a game, if you got a spare 15 or so minutes then do pick up this gem of a title, and with the 2 player option as well there’s no need for your friend to sit there watching enviously. Copies of the game are in plentiful supply on all good auction websites so do check out this title and add it to your collection, you must be suffering from “madness” not to…
Rating – 4 out of 5