Genre: Maze Developer: Tengen Publisher: Tengen Players: 1-2 Released: 1992
The Game Gear received a surprisingly good port of Marble Madness, and I really have to thank Tengen for giving me such a welcomed breath of fresh air on a handheld that’s so deprived of good games. I remember paying around fifteen bucks for this game several years back, and boy am I glad that I did, because it was money well spent. It seems that whenever I break out the old Game Gear, this game always seems to get its fair share of play time.
Marble Madness doesn’t do anything new over the arcade original or even any other version, and it isn’t even the best version. But what it does, it does well. When you first fire the game, up you are treated to a rather average title screen but you get a welcomed options menu before starting, something missing from most versions. Here, you can listen to the music and set the difficulty, which is a big help if you’re a beginner. There’s also a stage select. You have to input a cheat to access it in the options menu, but it’s easy enough to do.
You’re probably familiar with how Marble Madness plays if you’re anything of a classic gamer. If you haven’t, then it plays like a precursor to games like Mojo and the Monkey Ball series. You take control of a marble and have to roll it across six increasingly treacherous obstacle courses, trying to make it to a goal. You do have infinite lives but are in a constant race against the timer. You don’t get any continues, so you must stay on your toes. The game is quite hard, but it’s pretty short, so if you’re good then you can finish it in less than five minutes. Don’t let the length stop you though, because it takes a ton of practice to make it through all of the levels to the end. You also have to finish stages with plenty of time left on the clock, as extra time is added to the next stage if you don’t use it on the current one.
There are a ton of obstacles to avoid including enemy marbles, acid, hopping enemies that eat you, vacuums, and hammers, to name a few. There are also several different types of terrain, ranging from a slippery ice patch to areas that slow you down and make it hard to move. It even gets more creative towards the end with a race uphill and some little enemies that can be squashed to add to the timer. The ultimate test is in stage six, where you have to navigate a path of disappearing and reappearing blocks.
Tengen also did a good job working within the Game Gear’s limited audio capabilities. Each of the tunes from the arcade original is present; they are stripped down but still enjoyable nonetheless. The sound effects are really well done too and shine here, taking full advantage of the limited hardware. The graphics are also a highlight here, and I can honestly say that I love the visuals. The Game Gear and Sega Master System ports, being largely similar, are probably the best looking 8-bit versions of the game out there. I can honestly say that I love the abstract graphics, and the isometric view is handled incredibly well. My only complaint would be that stage three looks rather weird and almost graphically glitchy, but it’s more of an observation than a complaint.
Marble Madness is one of those games that I consider to be a timeless classic, and even though I’ve managed to finish the NES version before, this one feels different enough that I can’t finish it yet. I can still pretty much pick up any version of this game and still have a blast with it (well maybe not the Game Boy Advance one). Despite its really short length, it’s a game that will take a ton of time to master. Once you do, go and play the two-player mode because that adds an all new level of depth to an already great experience. If you still own a Game Gear then pick up a copy of this game as it’s incredibly well done here and a needed title for the system.
SCORE: 8 out of 10