Friday, March 18, 2016

Isometric March Madness: Marble Madness

Ah the it...hate it...utter ambivalence...whatever your opinion of the strange device, you have to agree no game seems better suited to the task of controlling the small, blue marble of Marble Madness than the cue-ball shaped controller. I think it was one of the few times in the arcade where I really felt in control of my character when using the track ball. Other than that it was a hate/ intense dislike relationship that I had with it. Between ones that felt slimed with who knows what and countless pinched palms, it frustrated me time and time again. So when I picked up Marble Madness and took it home for the weekend, I thought, "Finally, finally I have a chance at beating the game since I don't have to deal with that STUPID white ball."  

Dang I missed that stupid ball when I rented Marble Madness and got it home.  I didn't realize the control I actually was getting from the trackball at the time, what a shock. Not only that, but it felt like you were actually controlling what was on screen. Not that the home port didn't control well, but well...well let's talk about the game.


Like some Kafka-esque nightmare, you are now a little blue marble. How and why you got this way are unimportant. All that matters to you now is the rolling. Ceaseless, relentless rolling to the goal at the bottom of some Escher-like nightmare. Along the way you race past black marbles, bent on knocking you off a ledge and into oblivion. Giant worms with equally giant mouths wish to devour you and suck you into their gaping maw. The only means of respite you have as you rolls is the hope a magical wand will appear and add a few precious seconds on to your life. Sometimes the floor is slippery or the path is too narrow and you find yourself plunging into the unknown, darkness engulfs you--but then it feels as if you are being torn apart in reverse as your body slowly, slowly pieces itself back together.

Okay, enough of the Kafkan-look at the game. Control for the game actually works quite well, even if it would be nice to have the trackball. Much like the arcade, your one and only goal is to...well, make it to the goal!  The faster you race to the bottom, the more of your leftover time was rolled (ha! puns!) over to the next level.  Speaking of levels, there aren't that many levels in the game, but each one gets successively harder, with the paths getting more complex and more narrow as you progress. There's even a "silly" level where you roll to the top of the screen rather than racing to the bottom. The levels don't alter after each play; so you'll find yourself trying over and over again as you learn the layout and figure out new strategies to get to the end. If you play with  two players, there's the added fun of trying to get to the end first, or even knock the other person off as you race to the goal. I remember playing in the day and getting in arguments with my older brother after he'd knock me off the various ledges (then pretend he was having a hard time controlling the ball.)


It's Isometric!  Okay, that goes without saying seeing as this game is in the middle of "Isometric March Madness," it's still worth noting here as it really effects gameplay in its own unique way.  Whereas in Solstice the gameplay feels unnecessarily challenging thanks to the occasional failure of a player's ability to tell where objects are placed--Here in Marble Madness, you get a genuine sense of depth while retaining the ability to quickly assess where things are on the screen. It's great as you need to take in the surroundings in an instant and make split-second decisions about which path to take.

As far as style goes, it really feels like a solid port of the arcade game. I think out of all the Isometric games on the NES, this one ranks as my favorite simply because you get a real sense of depth, the colors are bright without being too harsh, and the animation of the various enemies and your own little blue marble are cute and well done.


Music for the NES was halfway decent in my opinion. I always liked rolling along to the tune in the second level in particular. It conveyed a nice mix of peppy and upbeat feelings, while still making me feel that I need to get the ball roll--so to speak--and get to the end in as quick a manner as possible:

"Level Two Theme"

I have to say, the sound when the marble drops too far and hits something and cracks always sounded too scratchy to me.  Other than that, the sound design was minimal, but effective. The sound of the ball rolling on ice was neat, the warbling reverberations after you hit another marble was cool, and I still snicker when the little blue marble screamed as I flung it off the side of a drop to it's doom.

Reflection After the Rental:

When I played this as a kid, I remember trying over and over and over again beat the game, or at least get a little further each time and end each level with a bit more time to waste/use on the next level. There always seemed to be a point though where I'd go from actually doing well and getting faster times, to totally sucking and messing up countless times on the easier levels.  I hadn't realized, or wanted to admit that I'd hit a plateau and wasn't getting faster and needed to call it a night.  The game had a fast turn around time when it came to restarting, and it never felt like starting from the beginning was too big of a deal. Losing hours to this game was easy to do. After all, it was only about half a minute to play each level, right?  I was so excited when I got this game at a swap a while back, I played it over and over again, trying to get to the last level, and figuring my poor playing on later levels was just because I was impatient as a kid. I knew that eventually, things would click and I would do the perfect race with the shortest time.

Well...I still haven't gotten to the end of the game, I still get frustrated and start losing ground, and I still end up watching my marble take a death-dive on easier levels as I get more and more frustrated.

I guess some things just don't change. 

No comments:

Post a Comment