Console: NES 

Company: Milton Bradley  

Release Date: March 1989  

Genre: Racing/Action 

Number of Players: 1 or 2 

Save Feature? No

In terms of originality and classic arcade fun, Marble Madness is more fun than a barrel of monkeys! With unique 3-D environs, excellent playability, and a two-player option that is sure to get the competitive juices flowing, Marble Madness is sure to please. While the game is a bit on the short side, it is definitely not one to pass up.

Overview: Seriously, Marble Madness is unlike any game that you've ever seen. At the time of its release, you really couldn't compare it to anything else out there! Although it contains elements of both racing and action games, I remember one individual saying that Marble Madness was a "genre of its own." Future games like Galaxy 5000 and Rock 'n Roll Racing had to have been influenced by the uniqueness of Marble Madness.

In Marble Madness, the goal is to make it through six enemy and obstacle-infested stages with a marble of all things! Not only do you have to avoid hammers, slinkies, gooey batches of acid, and evil marbles but there are obstacles such as ice, conveyor belts, and even moving ledges to consider! Of course, simply falling off a ledge results in instant death as well. Not only do you have to deal with all of this craziness but you're also racing against the clock! As you can see, this is one crazy video game!

Even though it may seem like the world is against you, it's not all bad. Unlike most racing games, your past performance really comes into play here. Any extra time that was leftover in a previous race is added to your allotted time in the current race. What this means is that if you're able to blow through some of the early races with 10 to 15 seconds to spare, it is possible to begin the final races with 70+ seconds on the clock! In addition to simply performing well, every once in a while, a magic wand will appear over your marble and add ten extra seconds! This seems more like a luck thing as I have never been able to ascertain as to why the wand appears when it does. Whatever the reason, just remember that there is hope...even when evil marbles and slinkies laugh in your face.

Graphics: Back in the mid-to-late eighties, there were a lot of critics who said that creating 3-D graphics in an NES game was impossible. The two simply could not co-exist due to the limited capabilities of the system. While this assumption seemed plausible at first (anyone remember Top Gun?), Marble Madness was the game that finally laid all doubt to rest. Later games like Solstice and Snake Rattle 'n Roll proved that Marble Madness was no one hit wonder either.

Overall, Milton Bradley (note that Tengen actually created the game in 1984; MB just picked things up in 1989) did about as well as you could expect in terms of the game's graphics. Everything is very bold and colorful and is quite Rare-ish actually. The enemies look funny and every race has its own unique color which keeps things from getting stale. Some of the backgrounds were nicely done as well; the starry background in the Ultimate Race was especially creative.

The animation was definitely above average for an NES game. The marbles move fluidly and the enemies have just enough personality to make everything work. I always liked those slinky-worm enemies for some reason. I hated those acid things though!

Music: The music is actually quite good! Again, it sounds like something Rare would cook up (I keep thinking "Cobra Triangle" as I write this review.). There is a heavy emphasis on melody and, in terms of atmosphere, the various tunes are right on. The Practice Race music is a good intro track while the Beginning Race tune lets you know that it's for real now! I always liked the upbeat Intermediate Race music; that and the destiny-laced Ultimate Race tune are probably my favorites. The Expert Race music is actually quite ominous and depressing while the music in the very next race (Silly Race) is friendly and funny...weird. The Ending theme may be short but man is it ever catchy. There! A neat, concise review of all of the game's music!

Sound effects are your average fanfare. The sound of your marble falling sounds strangely similar to that sound in Snake Rattle 'n Roll (as a matter of fact, both games are quite similar in many ways). The marble getting eaten by acid sounded pretty cool although it's too frustrating at the time to really appreciate it.

Play Control: You won't lose your marbles learning the game's controls because they are as simple as they come! Move the marble with the control pad and press A for a turbo boost; that's it! Of course, being the naive kid that I was back then, it took me several days to figure out that the A button actually moved your marble faster. Aha!! So that's why I can't make it past the Expert Race! D'uh!! :) Seriously, you shouldn't have any problems. Dodging death traps and keeping the marble on the raceway is the main concern. Granted, the controls might be a little loose but they're still pretty smooth.

Challenge: Even though Marble Madness is one of the shortest NES games of all-time, it is by no means a walk in the park. I remember when I first played this game and that Expert Race (Level 4) gave me fits! It took me forever to get past those hammers at the end. Not only that but there were the pipes that shoot you up along with other junk to watch out for. Heck, even the initial drop could cause you to fall!

The thing about Marble Madness is that there are so many enemies/obstacles that can trip you up before you reach that last finish line. Even if you are able to dodge most of them, all it takes is one or two pesky areas to ruin your day. The acids in the Intermediate Race, the birds/turns in the Silly Race, and the initial drop, ice/black marble area, and shifting platforms in the Ultimate Race can all cause major problems! And keep in mind that those are just a few of the obstacles that you face! Believe me, if you can beat this game and score over 100,000 points, you've earned my respect.

However, one of the unique things about Marble Madness is that the challenge goes beyond simply beating the game. Since there is such an emphasis on points in this game, you don't simply want to beat the game; you want to dominate it! Since the game keeps track of your overall performance (see the screenshot at the end of this review), you'll need to do well from start to finish to earn the most points. As you can see, Marble Madness is challenging in more ways than one!

Storyline: Not surprisingly, Marble Madness has no background story. After all, does a game this zany really need a story to make it sound even more ridiculous?!

Funfactor: This game is fun! Due to its classic simplicity and brevity, Marble Madness is a great game to fire up after work or when you have a short window of time to work with. While the game is fun with one player, it is truly a classic with a second player. This is especially the case if you're luck enough to round up a second player who is good at this game. Now that can be challenging!

Granted, Marble Madness is not a game that I play all that often just due to my eclectic collection of games that spans three consoles. However, this game is definitely one of the better NES games out there and is as original as any of them. It truly is in a genre of its own.

Negatives: If there's anything going against Marble Madness, it would have to be the game's brevity. Even with all of the challenges and variety found in the game's six dynamic levels, that doesn't change the fact that the game is still only six stages long. Eight to ten stages would have been much better.

Also, while the game can be a lot of fun to play, it can be very frustrating at times. Falling or getting destroyed over and over and over in the same spot is naturally anger-inducing. Although the play control is good overall, it can still be somewhat loose in tight situations like at the end of Level 4 where you're dealing with extremely narrow areas and a barrage of hammers knocking you off simultaneously. Milton Bradley designed their traps too well!


Ratings: Graphics: 4.1 Music: 4.0 Play Control: 3.9 Challenge: 4.2 Storyline: N/A Funfactor: 4.3 Overall Score: 20.5 out of 30.0 (4.1 average) Overall Rating: Bronze Bravo


Last Updated: May 21, 2006
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