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
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.
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.
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.
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.