theuselessgod's Marble Madness (Nintendo Entertainment System) review


The Short


- Crazy isometric marble rolling madness

- Play one or two player and race to the end of tricky stages

- Controls are smooth and work well to drive your marble over tricky platforms

- Music is...pretty good


- Difficulty jumps up pretty quick

- Only six stages

- Some jumps/falls don't seem far but still result in instant deaths

- Wonky physics at time

Pictured: MADNESS!

The LongMarble Madness was originally a short mega-hit arcade game. By "short" I mean it only was on top of the world a few weeks before it was forgotten (which the creators attributed to its low number of stages). But it was popular enough to get ports on both the NES and Genesis/MegaDrive (I've only played the NES version, but the games are identical) so that fans could play through the identical six stages in the comfort of their own homes.

Despite my cynical start to this review, I actually really love Marble Madness. Despite being short, a bit easy, and with a few minor issues it is still a fun time diversion even to this day, and is a must for any NES collector to grab for their system.

I don't know if I can handle all this madness.

The game is extremely simple in concept. Your goal is to guide the marble down a long hill of slopes (with the exception of stage five, where you go up) while avoiding obstacles and dealing with tricky ledges and platforms. You don't have lives, but instead have a constant timer. Time carries over between stages (with a few seconds added between each stage) so if you do really well on the first stages you'll have more time on the trickier ones. It's a neat trick but also means there are no continues, so if you screw up hard on one stage you are starting the whole game over. Good thing it's short.

Every day I'm MADNESSing.

That's actually the whole game: direct the marble and don't let it fall, get eaten, etc. Luckily, despite the limited number of stages, each (aside from maybe the first two) offers a unique experience and keeps on adding stuff to ramp up the difficulty. You'll go from smooth sailing to jumping worms that eat the marble, pools of acid that melt it, vacuums that suck it up, and moving floor pieces. The final three stages are extremely tricky (dare I say maddening?!) so it'll probably take a few tries before you figure out exactly how to best beat them. Most of the later stages also have split paths, allowing for an alternate route. It's a nice touch that makes replays a little different, though I wish there were more of them.

I'm blue, da bo de da bo MADNESS.

Another fun feature is two-player "competitive," which results in the crappier player getting frustrated. Since it doesn't split screen it'll follow the marble that is farthest ahead, and if you ditch your buddy they get re-deposited near you with a hefty time penalty. It's fun and makes enemies out of friends like all good competitive co-op games should, though the game is much easier playing by ones-self.

Milton Bradley made this game? Like the toy company? MADNESS.

The only real complaint I have for Marble Madness is the one original arcade players had: it's too short. With only six stages (and half of them being cakewalks) it's pretty easy to brute force your way through the game in an afternoon, and once you've beaten it there isn't much to go back for. Still, despite having crushed this game long ago I still boot it up from time to time and try to see how far I can get on a single playthrough. It's a fun, quirky puzzle/platformer/skill-based/something game, and still provides a good deal of fun today despite its setbacks.And they were apparently going to make a sequel that never happened, which sucks. It's never too late! Gritty Marble Madness reboot: "The Marble Madness," on next-gen! Make it happen!

Either way, considering you can grab the NES copy for around $3-$5, I'd say pick it up. Whether you have nostalgia for it or not, it's still a blast to play.

Four out of five stars.

Protip: The lower path is easier. Also, MADNESS.

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