Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Marble Blast Gold Edition Review

Marble Blast Gold Edition, developed and published by Garage Games.
The Good: 100 different levels that ramp up in difficulty, many different hazards and powerups, interesting physics, level editor
The Not So Good: No power-up usage strategy
What say you? A challenging but fair marble maneuvering game: 6/8

Since their invention, marbles have been a pretty popular pastime for youngsters around the world. The game takes skill and a little bit of luck, and you can always throw small glass objects at your opponent if you lose. Marbles were captured in all their digital glory in the classic game Marble Madness; in that game, you maneuvered a marble around a labyrinth of ramps and cliffs. This dynamic has been updated in Marble Blast Gold Edition, the Gold Edition of Marble Blast. In this game, you try to collect jewels while maneuvering around various obstacles, piloting your marble to freedom. Will this game prove to be a worth successor to the classics? Since I put the game score on the top of the review, I bet you already know!

Marble Blast Gold Edition has some bright, clean graphics representing the levels you’ll be driving in. The game is played in 3-D, and the user can rotate the camera around as you please, so there’s no problems with bad camera angles (because if you can’t see, it’s your fault). The game looks good but not overly confusing; the graphics do not hinder the gameplay in any way, and the cartoon theme fits the game well. The maps are not the most detailed levels in the world, but they don’t need to be, and I think more pieces of flair would have made the game too difficult to play. The sound mainly consists of the perky music and effects that accompany all the power-ups and obstacles around the map, which is exactly what you would expect in a game such as this.

The goal of Marble Blast Gold Edition is to not fall off the edge of the playing surface while gathering jewels and/or reaching the finish within the time limit. This is done by “driving” your marble around the map using the WASD keys, like a first person shooter. You can also rotate the camera with the mouse to steer, which is a nice addition and greatly simplifies the camera controls. You can also make your marble jump, which is necessary to complete some of the levels. Preventing your success are various obstacles, such as tornadoes, trap doors, fans, mines, and alternative surfaces, which generally throw your marble in a bad direction. There are also power-ups you can collect and instantly use scattered around the map (usually in a place where you need to use them). The super power-ups include super speed, super jump, super bounce, time travel (which stops the clock on timed levels), and gravity modifiers (which essentially flips the level 90 degrees). There isn’t much strategy in using the power-ups (since they automatically activate), which is disappointing. I’d like to see a way to store one power-up so that you can use it later, like Super Mario Kart. As it stands, there is no mystery on when to use them (which is my only real complaint about the game). There are 100 levels included in the Gold Version (plus an unlockable level editor), which are progressively more difficult as the game goes on. The levels have a nice learning curve; there really isn’t any drastic jump in difficulty; this makes completing the game not as frustrating as it could be. The Gold Edition also features a super-quick “gold time” that you can beat. The physics, along with the obstacles and power-ups, make Marble Blast Gold Edition a blast (ha ha!) to play. I never felt as though the game was cheating, throwing my marble off the level for no reason. The spherical dynamics of the marble results in some interesting mechanics; for example, when traveling on a moving platform, the marble started to roll backwards (a nice realistic touch of inertia). The marble does what you expect, which goes a long way in delivering an enjoyable gaming experience.

Marble Blast Gold Edition is a fine marble game that’s easy to learn and fun to play (two important conditions for all age groups). The graphics have a strong theme, the physics are true to life, and the game is just challenging enough to make it enjoyable. The level design doesn’t promote unfair, reflex-heavy levels, just skill in understanding the physics of the marble. The only complain I have is that you can’t store power-ups, and being a strategy game junky, I’d like to see a title that’s a little more than just pure skill. The Gold Edition adds some new levels and the “gold times,” so if you own previous versions of the game, I don’t think that’s enough to warrant getting this edition (although I never played the original), but people who have yet to experience Marble Blast will find a fun arcade game appropriate for all ages and skill levels.