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Best Games - Marble Madness

Marble Madness is a game that probably shouldn’t exist. I mean, obviously it does. People made it. The odds are pretty good  Mark Cerny and Bob Flanagan made it sometime before it’s release, in 1984. At least that is what history says. Even playing it today, it’s hard to imagine some form of time travel wasn’t involved.
I invite you to survey the landscape of video games in 1984. A lot of really great games were created or released that year. Tetris, Excitebike, Elite, 1942, King’s Quest; true classics. But no game in 1984 compares to the technical wizardry of Marble Madness. Until the advent of full 3d game engines and physics systems a decade later, nothing even came close.
In most ways, Marble Madness is 1984 as hell. We were only 2 years off of Tron and hot on the heels of The Adventures of Andre and Wally B., a short film by an offshoot Lucasfilm division that would later become PIXAR. Smooth, shiny CG graphics and topographical grids had never been more in fashion. Limitations of the time meant the the graphics in Marble madness had to be composed of chunky pixels, but they certainly did all they could to feel like that glossy rendered CG stuff.
It is the movement that really sets Marble Madness apart from its contemporaries. The trackball controlled marble on the screen moves like something from the future. It’s future. Our past. Listen, I’m not a time traveller so I don’t know how this stuff works, but I do know that Marble Madness controls and moves like nothing else of it’s era. The marble travels with a weight and accuracy that you can feel when you play it. Counteracting the momentum of a steep requires a natural, instinctive series of inputs. Small touches on the trackball connect you to the on screen world in a very physical way. Ports of the game would go on to use gamepads and joysticks slightly muting the effect of controlling a rolling marble, but somehow the feeling of accurate physical movement still holds on most platforms. Probably an artifact of whatever future tech was used to concoct the game.
In many ways Marble Madness falls short as a game. It is not very long and ramps up the difficulty from flat to vertical wall in about 60 seconds. Sometimes the orthographic view angle makes it difficult to tell where things are in the levels. On the other hand, the music is absolutely bangin. So, I was wrong before, this game is actually fantastic.
If you’re looking for a taste of the future, well the future from the perspective of 1984, you should probably play Marble Madness. It’s one of the best games.
This post is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 by the author.
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