Have you ever dreamed of playing a video game where you control a marble around a course whilst dodging enemies, maneuvering around awkward turns and trying your best not to fall of the edge? The answer you will give me is no, probably not but if veteran gamers cast their minds back to the early eighties they might remember a game that focused on all of the above called Marble Madness. A game that was clearly like no other and did not try to be any sort of imitation, while it does not hold up against many other classics on the NES, you can hardly claim that Marble Madness lacked originality.
Marble Madness was created by Mark Cerny and published by Atari games in 1984, if you are not familiar with some of Mark Cerny’s work he is known for working on some very important games with some very important developers. Such examples include: Sonic the Hedgehog 2 with Sega, Crash Bandicoot, Jak and Daxter and Uncharted with Naughty Dog as well as Spyro the Dragon, Ratchet and Clank and Resistance with Imsomniac games. While I think you will agree all of the examples I have mentioned all received global recognition and success in their time, it was Marble Madness that is recognised as Mark Cerny’s first major success and he was only 18 when he created it.
During the games design, Cerny drew inspiration from miniature golf, racing games and artwork by M. C. Escher. His aim was to create a game that offered a distinct experience with a unique control system, if the game achieves anything it will indeed be for it’s distinct experience and it’s control system was like no other game back then. Cerny had to forgo several design ideas in the game due to limitations in technology thus leading to the appearance of the games courses and enemies lack of creative design.
Marble Madness started off as an arcade game, but after receiving a lot of commercial success, it was ported to several games consoles like the NES, (Rare handled the port for the NES) Amiga and Sega Megadrive to name a few. As an arcade game, Marble Madness was controlled using a tracking ball and once ported to consoles many thought that the game was not as enjoyable without the tracking ball. Although the success of the arcade version is likely what fueled the sales of the home console versions. An arcade sequel to the game called Marble Man: Marble Madness II although with no involvement from Mark Cerny was planned for release in 1991, Atari created prototypes for location testing but the game was met with poor reception so eventually the game was scrapped.
Marble Madness was a platforming game where you control a marble through 6 levels dodging enemies (including the annoying enemy marble!) and trying to make it to the end of each level. While I appreciate that 6 levels does not sound like too much of a challenge, the difficulty comes in with the controls. You are required to move a marble up and down slopes, across paper thin (slight exaggeration) platforms when all the while being a target for enemy marbles, hammers and other enemies all within a time limit. One saving grace was that if you fell off a ledge you would restart exactly where you fell off meaning you wouldn’t have to start the whole level again making it easier to get passed the part you fell at.
The game featured isometric visuals and if memory serves, although Marble Madness seemed hard at first, once you mastered the controls it got a lot easier. I found myself cutting corners rather than properly going round them to save time as well as avoiding the enemy marbles rather than try to bully them off the edge. Further proof as to the game not being too much of a challenge to some people is the fact that I have found speed runs of under 3 minutes of the entire game on Youtube! Once you beat the 6 levels you are victorious, although you can play the game 2 player simultaneous which does add a new level of challenge in that you will find yourself bumping into each other a lot and “accidentally” bumping the other player of the stage.
There are more recent games that share a resemblance with Marble Madness with it’s unique control style: Balance, (a marble game for windows) Super Monkey ball (controlling the monkey in a ball) and Mercury Meltdown Revolution on the Wii (controlling parts of the mercury across platforms) are a few examples. Also the part in Super Mario Galaxy where you control Mario on top of a ball with a star in it made me say: “This is just like controlling Marble Madness“
Although being a commercial success as an arcade game, the sales of arcade cabinets started to fall after it’s seventh week after release. Mark Cerny put this down to the games length and that players moved onto another game after they had successfully mastered the game. Many reviewers felt that the games difficult to master control scheme was where Marble Madness‘ appeal came from, the game also made an appearance in The Guiness Book of World Records 2008 edition at the number 79 arcade game in technical, creative, and cultural impact.
Despite the games lack of levels and in some respects lack of level and enemy design, I remember having a great laugh with my brother playing this game as it was one of our first games we owned where we could play 2 players cooperatively and simultaneously. It was supposed to be cooperative but Marble Madness soon brought out the competitiveness in both my brother and I, such competitiveness can be found in a lot of games today like New Super Mario Bros U.
In my opinion, Marble Madness does not go down as one of the bigger classics when it comes to retro games on the NES but there are reasons why it will always hold up and stay in my mind as a retro classic. One of the reasons being when you control any kind of spherical object in any modern game today, veteran gamers will no doubt all share the same thought which is that controlling it holds a resemblance to Marble Madness. It was a game like no other for its time and offered a unique gameplay experience which the same cannot be said about many modern day games that are released these days. Please enjoy the gameplay clip of the game below.
Uploaded by NESguide.com
Written by Sammy J on 25 August 2014