Marble Madness - In-Depth Amiga Review with Pics
Amiga, 1986 (1984 Arcade)
Review originally published June 20th, 2017
*Full soundtrack recorded from my A500
*Compare soundtrack with the NES version
*Alphabetical list of writings
*Game best played in NTSC with 4:3 aspect ratio which preserves arcades 3:4 aspect ratio - Music played at proper tempo in NTSC
Marble Madness is amongst the first Amiga games I remember watching and playing. The majority of my viewing memories concerning the Amiga are a result of my father, who was heavily into the more intricate games the system had to offer. This game would hold memories of my sister, who seemed to play it the most. This may have been the first time I ever played a simultaneous two player game on any platform. Atari originally released the arcade cabinet in 1984, which has a full and rich history I recommend looking into. We will be looking at the fantastic and nearly arcade perfect port on the Amiga here, but I will state the arcade was and still is considered a very important piece of arcade history.
^Amiga World review, not a bad place to emulate in terms of writing
Unfortunately I can't say the same in terms of how this Amiga version seems to be perceived these days. Now every review I found of it back in the day praised it to no end. Computer Gaming World even said it was better than the arcade on the Amiga. Amiga World said the graphics were so good, they must be seen to be appreciated. As well as saying it was a must own. But I guess people these days really don't care too much about the rich history of the games they show, or they are being mislead by incorrect emulator settings which may hinder play for them. A review from 2014 claimed you might as well look away now if you wish your Amiga to be pushed. He claimed the game was short and ran slow, even criticizing the lack of music on a total of one screen (the Title screen). While spending most of his time making me feel like he's not too fond of the game he then says that the game somehow works and it eeks out a 75% with terrible scores in graphics and music...
^How not to write a review
That reviewer makes my head shake at how terrible those who view these games with only a modern lens are. I would hate for that guys review to get stamped to the front of some Marble Madness review page...Oh wait... It already is at the top of the Hall of Light database of Amiga games... Damn shame. The game features fantastic sound effects as well as a full in-game musical soundtrack that plays with the sound effects. If that reviewer knew anything about the Amiga or machines of any type at that time he would know this is a very impressive accomplishment. I wonder just how many games this guy has ever played on this machine if he's not impressed by the games many sound effects, with its full stereo soundtrack. He also points out how short the game is, and that you'll master it quickly... However his screenshots suggest to me that he got nowhere near the near the end of the game. I guess he just assumes you're better than he is, correct assumption. Despite the bashing he makes sure to say there was nothing like it before, and nothing since. Would you make up your mind and grow a pair? I can't see how this even qualifies as a review, personally.
^ Because not enough people show off Workbench, and the games main menu
How about you and I look into this game from the perspective of people who are in the year 2017 and enjoy old games because these games were fun then, and they're still fun now? I know what year it is, but it's quite disheartening when I see so many who have no idea what year it was when these games were released. How can you be impressed by some 90's Amiga platformer in 2017 when perhaps there were better ones on consoles then, and there are better games now? You still love those games, because apparently they push your Amiga to its limits. Yet one of the first huge success stories in terms of Amiga games, from none other than Electronic Arts (when they were good), does nothing to show off that machine you love? Could it be that you're not looking with a modern lens at all? That you're just stuck in that one area you enjoy? I urge you all to step out of your comfort zones and look deeper, you might be missing out on some classics.
^The beginners introduction level
Marble Madness is a game that features many different options in terms of controls. The original arcade was well known for its use of a trackball, and thus many who played the actual cabinet back in the day will look down on all ports of this game. The Amiga actually supports two different types of trackballs for the purists enjoyment. Though I've never used a trackball on any computer system, I would imagine that would be the ultimate and easiest way to play the game. As a kid I recall using the joystick more than anything in this game. In my video you can see me take a stab with those controls, which I can't really recommend anyone use if they wish to beat the game. Given the digital nature of a joystick combined with the direction of the stick not going where you might think it should be going, you're going to have a hard time. Down does not go down, it goes down and to the left. Right goes down and to the right. If you dare to go diagonal on the joystick kiss that marble goodbye as it falls off a cliff you had no intention of going near.
^2nd level, my favorite music/stage
For me it's the mouse. Not just a mouse, but an upgraded modern laser controlled mouse. In a segment of my video you will see the ease of use with a laser mouse. I believe it behaves just as good as a trackball. I also took a stab with the Amiga's original mouse. Perhaps it will depend on the shape yours is in. I'd rather use the joystick than my personal mouse from back in the day, which was an utter pain in the butt. The use of a newer Amiga tank mouse did provide very good gameplay, albeit slower than the laser or the joystick. It may just get you through the game however.
^Level 3, things are getting tricky
You control a marble on its journey from the start of a stage, to the end of a stage. The stages feature very smooth scrolling (in its designed NTSC mode) mostly in a vertical fashion, with some horizontal segments as well. You have an incredible for the time isometric graphics mode. This was very impressive in 1984 in the arcades, it was utterly impressive in 1986 on the Amiga, and it would continue to be impressive any time it was seen throughout the life of the Amiga. The graphics can not be understated, they are near arcade perfect, and back then you could not hope to surpass the arcade. The graphics are amazing on the Amiga, with many examples of shadows at half colors present.
As usual, let me point out for those unaware, that this is an NTSC Amiga game made in America. When you find these games (and there are many of them) it should be known that emulators default into PAL emulation, which runs slower, distorts the image (widens it) and may or may not (depends on programing) slow down the music as well. PAL mode does all three with Marble Madness. Anyone that thinks this game runs a bit too slow is going to find it runs utterly smooth in its intended mode of NTSC. So please give it a try. In my video you'll see it in action, compare it to any other video of the Amiga version and you will see how perceptions are being distorted. But now that you know, I hope that you'll care.
^Level 4, this is where we separate the men and women from the boys and girls
You have unlimited lives in Marble Madness, but will be perused relentlessly by the grim reaper in the form of a time limit. The time limits will quickly stop being generous and you'll find yourself with very little available time to explore and memorize new areas. You'll be seeing the beginning levels rather frequently in your quest to complete this game as you'll be forced to start over when time runs thin. The better you get at the beginning levels, the more "bonus" time you'll find added on for the next level. I find the use of the word bonus rather humorous, as I'd say it's near impossible to complete many levels without the previous levels "bonus" time. The main critique about this game is that it's hard as nails. I've been playing the game since I was two years old, and I've only now beat it for the very first time in my life at 31 years old. Despite always trying my hardest to beat these game before I review them (a requirement to review games for many magazines like Computer Gaming World back in the day) , I was near throwing the towel in on this one and using my failure to illustrate the games difficulty.
^Level 5, heed their warning
I managed to persevere and win this game. Despite imagining I would not be satisfied after winning, I was wrong. I felt quite happy and I even caught my first ever win of this game live on camera in my video review. Without consulting any type of guide or walkthrough, I plowed through as you would back in the day. The first several levels I've got memorized from back as a child, no harm there. But the later levels will have the best of you questioning your sanity with continued play. Complaints about the timers aside, in terms of gameplay I have nothing to fault. For the most part the game is not even about memorization, it's about pure and utter reflexes. You just don't see that too often in terms of any games. The maze is constantly scrolling and you need to react quickly and be on your feet. Memorization will help you, but without a quick hand you will fail.
^Level 6, the final countdown
I believe I only saw the final level as a kid once or twice before failing miserably and running out of time before making the first jump. Level 5 was reached and defeated many more times, but not often. While these more difficult stages may not ever be seen by some, I can't recommend the game enough to everyone with an Amiga. Marble Madness could now be described as quite pricey when new ($49.95), but it's going to be a lot cheaper now. You will have fun fiddling around on the first few levels, I know I did for the longest time. If you keep at it, I believe you'll get quite a smile on your face upon defeating it all. Is it short? Only when you've mastered it. Good luck mastering it. Look at all the pictures I've provided here for this "short" game... There's plenty to explore, and I believe the length of this game is perfect in terms of the design.
^ Nearly 30 years of built up rage and anticipation... Surprising relief
There's nothing quite like nearly making it to the the goal of a level only for the timer to run out. You'll have to start all over again getting a little better each time. But since the game is so short, I can't say I was every truly outraged. It's just a pleasant and fun ride. One I don't believe anyone can regret. Please be sure and check out my video review of Marble Madness , where I expand more heavily on several topics and you get to see that sweet action in motion.
*Alphabetical list of writings
*All screenshots were pics taken of my actual CRT monitor hooked up to my Amiga 500.