"As you race around the various stadiums trying to collect multi-colored gems ahead of your worthy opponents, you’ll find power-ups scattered all over the place. Some blow you up to giant size and let you send everyone who touches you flying. Others give you the ability to spring high into the air, or to rocket across most of the arena if you launch cleverly from the top of a ramp."
You can smirk all you like at the notion of grown men playing with marbles, but there’s something about Marble Blast Ultra, the latest videogame devoted to the rather childish pursuit, that makes it okay for anyone to roll them around. . . if only in digitized form. That something is ‘fun.’
When you’re having fun playing a game, the fact that you’re nearing thirty has no relevance. When you’re rolling a marble along the brink of a precipice and sweat is trickling down your brow because you know a simple mistake will send you hurtling into the brink and ruin--no, obliterate--your chance at a top time, just the idea that someone might find the pursuit childish is as alien as the horde of monsters that assault you in Doom III.
That’s the one-player game, an exercise in tight controls and unflinching resolve that will remind some of Super Monkey Ball or even the older game, Marble Madness. The latter was actually the inspiration for this new venture, and it shows in each narrow platform your roll along, in the fans that might try to blow you off course and the dips and bends in the path that slow your progress just when you begin to think you might shatter your friend’s best time.
Yes, Marble Blast Ultra keeps track of such things. It’s an Xbox Live Arcade title, so you might already expect that, but the level to which it’s true here is staggering. Delightfully staggering. When you finish level 38 and your time is flashing on the screen, you can simply press a button and find exactly where you rank compared to any of your friends that might be playing. Then you can snicker and shout “In your face, midwinter!” while droplets of saliva fly through the air like bullets and you’ll have proof that you are in fact the superior marble roller.
If you choose to participate in the game’s multi-player mode, it’s possible to take that one step further. Gloating about a score you achieved is one thing. Doing it right in front of your online friends is even better. Smart people that they are, the people at Garage Games provided a pleasing ten arenas in which to do so.
At this point, it’s probably worth talking about those arenas, since they’re not the typical redundant fluff you might expect. They feature some of the things that made the single-player campaigns so neat, like icy oceans that will send you skittering over the edge and falling into space, or floating ledges suspended high above the ground, or gravity-switching switches or even wide gaps you must leap across (yes, your marble can jump). One arena might find everyone working in a close, confined space while another gives you a ravine to roll through with a series of platforms high in the sky. Each arena is different enough from the next that anyone will quickly develop a favorite or ten.
You might be thinking “Well, it’s a game about marbles, how useful can an arena really be?” And if you are, you should be ashamed about that comma splice, absolutely ashamed. But moving on, the answer to your question is this: arenas are an intelligent inclusion because your marble is a weapon and must be treated as such. As you race around the various stadiums trying to collect multi-colored gems ahead of your worthy opponents, you’ll find power-ups scattered all over the place. Some blow you up to giant size and let you send everyone who touches you flying. Others give you the ability to spring high into the air, or to rocket across most of the arena if you launch cleverly from the top of a ramp.
Each of the above abilities must be mastered if you want to dominate in a Marble Blast Ultra battle, and of course you do. So you’ll be playing right along with anyone else who signs on, and all of you will be laughing and hunting down “glitches” together (one lets you stack marbles and fly high into the sky over the arena, for a view that’s truly spectacular).
Of course, Marble Blast Ultra is ultimately nothing more than what you make of it. The simple appeal it provides won’t be everyone’s cup of tea and that’s okay. If you are one of the ones who likes to just let off steam once in awhile and maybe show a few people you’ll never meet again that you are in fact America’s number one badass, this is the game that will let you do it. If you just want to chat and play around racing from one portal and platform to another while collecting gems, this is still your game. About the only thing missing is guns, but I can live without those. Doom III this isn’t, and I’m not complaining!
Staff review by Jason Venter (July 04, 2006)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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