Review by Retro
Playing marbles is something I'd never done before. I used to have a lot of those little glass marbles with exotic colorful patterns inside them, but dust mites paid more attention to them than I did. That is, until I decided to get Marble Madness. I never knew playing marbles was so fun or I would've been playing them all my life.
With nothing more than a normal NES controller, you can literally take the controls of either a blue or red marble (depending on whether you play by yourself or co-operatively with a friend) and maneuver it from the start of six different levels, to the end, where a finish line is waiting. The beginning race is just an extremely short example of what this classic has to offer. You and your marble start at the top of what looks to be a 3-D maze with several midget slopes. After several seconds pop onto the clock at the top of the screen, it's time to get the show rolling! Rolling like a wheel through just a few twists and turns will take you to the end of the first stage, making the time on the clock seem like an eternity. Man, that was easy! There wasn't any enemies, or really a challenge whatsoever.
If you've been alive for just a few years, then you know first-hand that things can change in a split second. A family member can be alive and well one day and suddenly be gone the next. Purchasing a lottery ticket may, it just may, make you an instant millionaire, giving you a permanent break from having to worry about impressing the boss with your every move. Marble Madness changes drastically after the first stage. Before you know it, you'll be having to dodge a black as midnight marble that seems to love treating you like a bumper car; you don't want to become just another fish in the sea, so steering clear of the slime green puddles that can drown you should be pretty high on your list; to certain vacuums, you're like an ugly speck of dirt, so they want to suck you in piece by piece until you're nothing more than a memory.
Ah, that's nothing. The marbles have an unlimited number of lives on hand. Whether you get harassed by an enemy or simply fall off the edge of a cliff, you'll be put back onto the maze in one piece almost instantly. Your biggest enemy in the world is the time itself. Even though the time you have left over will be added to the dwindling amount of seconds that you'll receive after making it alive through each maze, it never seems to be enough for you to take a deep breath and relax. Once you reach the second stage, you won't have the desire to rest anyway. Doing such things as guiding your marble at just the right angle down steep ramps in order to avoid falling into bottomless pits that probably lead to hell has a way of keeping your eyes glued to the television screen. Your concentration will be so sharp that tunnel vision will almost completely take you over. You won't see anything but the marble-infested TV screen.
Judging the numerous tight turns and slopes will take a lot of practice and determination. Frustration will set in numerous times as you fall off the sides more than daredevils sky dive or base jump off tall buildings. It'll do a lot of good to keep an eye on various shortcuts throughout your dizzying quest. Just look at that tall, pink pipe in level two. It looks much easier and faster than taking the other way, which is comprised of simple angles. That is, until you actually reach the bottom of the pipe and see how you must gain enough momentum to roll forward at all; let alone those holes in the ground that can steal away your time faster than a hummingbird flaps its wings. But seeing as how these shortcuts can be tough to pull off, sometimes you might just want to take the long way home.
Good judgment of your own skills could come into play with that example. Other times, you're left no choice. You reach the end of a stage with brown grounds that your hurling marble can barely fit onto and you glance at the clock and see only 18 seconds left! The longer way appears to be much too time-consuming compared to the conveyor belt machine right in front of you that thinks it's an ocean with all of its towering waves. Forget that, hop onto that scrolling conveyor belt and get off of it right before you fall off the edge. You know you have an unlimited number of lives, so why not go all out? If you happen to run out of time and get the notorious 'game over', then oh well, you know you tried your hardest. And you'll keep trying to get further, or else you won't get to experience the weird, but amazingly memorable aspects of later stages, such as a backwards race or platforms that constantly change shape.
If you ever happen to beat the game, it's always fun to play Marble Madness over and over again. It's not just the engaging gameplay with its edge of the seat action that never gets old. The graphics look perfect for this sort of game. The mazes' environments have that polished 3-D look to them, but they don't try to be overly flashy to where they deter your attention away from getting to the end as fast as you can. The enemies and marbles are the same way. I especially like how you can still see the textures of the floor through the living enemy lakes, and how the white patterns on the blue marble roll in unison with your every move. Even if you couldn't see your marble but could see those patterns that seem like light's being reflected off of it, you could tell which way you're traveling.
Sound effects are just like they should be, such as the harsh sound of banging against another marble, the ahhhhhh sound of falling off the edge, etc. Now the music really adds to the atmosphere of whichever stage you're currently challenging. The first two mazes aren't as difficult or as dangerous as the others, and the music has that futuristic cheerful sound to it to mark that. Just wait until you hear the tune that accompanies the stage with red siding in which you'll spend nearly as much time flying through the air as you will rolling on the ground. It promotes the feeling that you're in the most dangerous part of the world, and you are. This area couldn't be much more of a nightmare for a little bitty marble, especially if it has a daunting fear of heights!
I'm one who usually hates games that are so hard that I can't beat them. I've come close, but I have yet to finish Marble Madness. However, I love it as much as I would if it were a game that I could beat nearly every time I played it. I love the level designs, graphics, music, and best of all, its classic hard-edged gameplay and personality. Who knew you could feel like such a badass from playing a game of marbles?? There is just one flaw, though, that I'd like to point out. You can play a simultaneous two-player game with a friend at any time. Unfortunately, doing so really isn't that fun. You're supposed to be racing each other, and if you just want to beat them to death, then this mode is great.
But, it's terrible if you're wanting to cooperate with one another and make it to the finish line together as a team. Anytime one of the players gets left behind to where their marble goes out of the screen, a few seconds will be taken away from their clock. I never enjoyed my siblings' cries of ''Wait up, man, quit going so fast.'' Perhaps I've been tamed a bit too much by those statements that I now look at it as an unfair flaw on Marble Madness, but nonetheless, there should've been a mode included where you and a friend could go together as one more easily.
While not a perfect game, Marble Madness is perfect for anyone who's looking to add fun, intense, and challenging titles to their NES library. Marble Madness has shown me what I missed out on from not playing marbles beforehand. Wait, scratch that. I've played marbles since then, and this NES madness with marbles game is much more fun than any real life game of marbles could ever hope to be. In all seriousness, if you don't own Marble Madness, then what more can I say? Your Nintendo collection is incomplete.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 05/09/01, Updated 05/19/03
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