Marble Madness (NES)

  • Gameplay
  • Audio
  • Visuals
  • Entertainment

Also available on Master System, Genesis, Super Nintendo, Game Boy, Game Boy Advance, Game Gear, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, X68000, Amiga, Atari ST, Apple II, and Apple IIGS

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Review written by Stephen Deck; originally published 06/29/2021 on Teacher by Day, Gamer by Night

During the COVID-19 pandemic, John Oliver did a bit in one of his shows on Jelle’s Marble Runs and the bizarre and beautiful world of marble racing.  I was instantly hooked, and since I got hooked on JMR (go Mellow Yellow!), I’ve regained a bit of the interest in marbles in general that I had when I was a kid.  On a bit of an NES kick lately, I thought I’d go ahead and give Marble Madness a spin.

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Marble Madness is a somewhat physics-based game (emphasis on the “somewhat”) where you either race against an opponent or the clock across stages with a variety of obstacles and challenges.  You’ve got hills, sharp 90 degree turns, drops that can break your marble more easily than the legs of a horse in Skyrim, weird living cans that eat your marble, puddles of acid that dissolve your marble, so on and so forth.  It’s a really clever design, to be honest.  Unfortunately, the execution is much less impressive than the concept.

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First off, the game is very short at only six stages that take between 45 and 90 seconds each to complete.  Assuming you don’t fail to complete a course in the time allotted, that’s about ten minutes for a complete playthrough – not a lot of content there.  Second, it’s trying to incorporate physics-based movement with the inclines and a couple of launching areas in an NES game from 1989; it just doesn’t work particularly well.  The camera is also positioned at the bottom of the screen looking at the levels from a corner; think where home base is on a baseball diamond.  This makes the controls just feel awkward with respect to the camera placement, at least in my opinion.

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Marble Madness is a game with a wonderful concept but tragically poor execution.  Had I played ports for the Genesis or Super Nintendo, it probably would have been fine, but on NES, it just falls woefully short of what it could have been.  It’s worth a look for NES enthusiasts given how short it is, but unless you’re really into collecting for the NES, I can’t recommend running out and finding a copy of this.  It’s just too short and too subpar to be worth going out of your way to play.

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