Developer: Atari Games
Publisher: Atari Games
Platform: Arcade (originally); ported to numerous platforms; currently available on PC, iOS
Metacritic score: Not available
VGChartz sales to date: Unknown
WHAT MADE IT GREAT
Life is full of simple pleasures and gaming is no exception. The gaming industry loves to get worked up over big AAA titles and the drive for greater immersion in games, but there's plenty of what we now deem "casual" titles vying for our attention. There's a tendency to view these games with scorn, citing their simple mechanics or limited depth as evidence that our hobby is being dumbed down to appeal to players lacking the skills to play "hardcore" games. To those people, I humbly present Marble Madness. This is a game without story, plot or even any characters and whose gameplay is based on a simplistic board game popular since the 19th century. With only six levels and no save feature, it's a game designed specifically with casual play in mind and a skilled player can beat it in under 5 minutes. It's also one of the most challenging video games ever created and is probably responsible for an entire landfill's worth of broken controllers.
|You'd think watching your marble shatter from too high a drop would be a warning to treat your controller well, but it only serves to further enrage you|
|Roving pools of acid will dissolve your marble to dust, costing you precious seconds while you regenerate|
WHAT WENT WRONG
A short but impossibly challenging game is the perfect recipe for arcade success, but in 1984 the arcade scene was in its death throes. The Atari 2600 signaled the rise of the home console domination of the market, giving the first taste of a future where video games could be enjoyed from the comfort of your own couch. While most arcade ports to the 2600 were vastly inferior to their arcade counterparts, it was still clear that soon the technology would catch up enough to close the gap. When the NES arrived Stateside in 1985 that promise would be fulfilled, but in the meantime Atari was still focused on the arcade. They sold over 4,000 Marble Madness cabinets in the first 6 months while interest peaked and the game became the highest-earning cabinet in most arcades. But then demand suddenly dropped as gamers grew bored of the limited number of courses.
|Though few in number, the levels got progressively harder by adding more challenging obstacles and increasing the complexity of the mazes|
WILL WE SEE IT AGAIN
Definitely, but don't expect developers to race the clock in bringing it to market. Atari released the game on iOS as part of a massive collection in 2011, but shows no interest in a standalone title. EA was developing a spiritual successor to the game that also included the original levels, but quietly slipped passed it's 2010 release and has been unheard of since which could suggest licensing disputes. It's too bad, because the trackball controls and gameplay mechanics are a great fit for tablets. New levels with updated designs would greatly add to the games appeal, you could even incorporate tilt-based controls to give more depth to the mechanics. But given how many different studios released various ports over the years it wouldn't be much of a surprise if the game turns out to be a legal hornets nest.
Other versions of the game that have already been released are available on PS2, Xbox, GameCube and PC in the form of the Midway Arcade Treasures collection. The title is misleading since it actually contains multiple games never published by Midway, including Marble Madness. And while that port was developed by an outside studio Midway had contracted, it was actually just a compilation of three arcade collections the studio had developed earlier for SNES, Playstation and PC. At the time Midway owned both Williams and Atari, but since then Atari has been sold and resold multiple times and just last month filed for bankruptcy. Don't mourn too long, because the brand has already died many deaths and will likely be resurrected once again. But when Lazarus rises again from his pit, it's unclear if he'll bring Marble Madness with him.
|Choose the right path and you will shave a little time off your run, but choose poorly and you'll be stuck in development hell while lawyers wrangle over your publishing rights.|