Marble Blast Ultra was superb.
One of the OG XBLA hits along with Zuma, Small Arms and Geometry Wars, seeing it being delisted in 2011 was heartbreaking. 60FPS smoothness, a tight control scheme and beautifully thought-out level design, saw the game soar to the top of everyone’s “favouriite XBLA games” list and since then, nothing has been able to replicate it. First off, we had Momentum, an ugly experience with a zen-theme that made you want to crush your controller, and now we have Marble Void, which is what you’d get if you remade Marble Blast Ultra on an Atari 2600.
Today’s shiny scrotum lookalike comes to us Leveled Games, a Colorado-based studio who’s released this as their first project. That’s all I know, as the website tells me nothing of their life prior, and their only partner is “Bonk750”, a graphic designer. There’s no other social media accounts I can find them on, and if the aesthetic is anything to go on, they’re probably like Keanu Reeves in The Matrix, out of the world we’re plugged in, and is attempting to free us with an indie game. Noble effort.
You play as Michael Marble, proud family man with a wife and two kids, who is driving to work one day when he’s suddenly a part of a tragic car crash, totalling 57384 casualties. When he awakes, the doctors solemnly tell him that there was no other way to fix him, and now he’s a marble. Thank the Lord he wasn’t named Michael Porta-Potty, otherwise he’d be in for a hell of a new line of work.
Michael’s transformation into his namesake depresses him, as his kids are too old to be playing with marbles, and his wife doesn’t know how to engage in coitus with a shiny ball. After snapping at his kids, he decides to end it all, but ends up in a cyber-world, dominated by the, err… Fragglezagglez? Now his new motivation is to save Princess Beach in a valiant battle wi- Okay, I’ve got nothing else, this game is just too boring to NOT make up a story about.
Marble Void looks set to reveal its hand straight off, by giving you this disgusting, tacky world to conquer, through the application of your marble skills. Boasting 40+ levels and a custom soundtrack, you’re put into Easy mode to ease you in, and now if we could replace “Easy mode” with the entire game, you’d get an accurate representation of the trials ahead of you.
The aesthetic is one of the worst parts of this game, with Leveled Games talking of it being “Retro, but futuristic”. I’m just going to ignore that oxymoron right there, but if this is what the future looks like, I’ll kill myself right now. The Matrix concept art and muddy, undefined platforms are the dish of the day, and suddenly you don’t feel like you’re playing a cool looking game, you feel like you’re on CoolMathGames, figuring out your times-tables.
I suppose there’s no avoiding it, and I’m not going to dance around the field of play any longer. Marble Void is one of the easiest and dullest games this generation, and you’d have a harder time spotting Shaquille O’Neal in a nightclub for vicars. Almost every level is this sprawling, almost endless neon desert of platforms and boxes, and the main challenge comes from going up slopes.
The soundtrack does its best to liven you up, and does so with some of the most grating and unbearable synth rock to ever lay upon your eardrums. Screeching guitars and high-pitched keyboards play on your ears like knives slashing your chest, and it’s a far cry away from the minimalistic EDM that populated Marble Blast. At the same time, the soundtrack could’ve been compiled by Autechre and Aphex Twin, but it doesn’t change the fact that these controls and physics and miserably shit.
Look, I know marbles can’t go Mach 4 down a hill, I accept that, but can you at least make the game look, or feel exciting? These marbles go so slow down straits and hills, and the delay in your marble reacting to your controls makes for some frustrating gameplay. There are powerups and gameplay elements you can use and adapt with, but these come fleetingly, once every 3 or 4 missions, and before you know it, it’s gone.
After a while, most of your objectives will consist of “press this button” and “find a teleporter in an endless green field”. Paired with your marble making a top speed of 0.812MPH, you’ll fall asleep faster than a narcoleptic in a business meeting. However, even if these complaints were brushed upon, and the marbles felt like Lamborghini’s speeding down the Le Mans straight, it would’ve been annihilated by the poor performance.
Picture this, ok? Marble Blast Ultra is a 2006 release, and runs perfectly, at a miniscule size of 250+ MB. It’s eleven years later, and Marble Void is twice the size, and dips to 10fps on the main menu… how does this happen? What about when you enter a level? Hoo, mama, it’s like the FPS counter is on a see-saw, you’ll be dipping and flying between 2 and 30 no matter how fast or slow you’re going.
I just don’t understand how this happens, I don’t get how such a simplistic gameplay concept performs this poorly. This is what kills the game, not the dull aesthetic, or simplified gameplay progression, but this. This testament to technical incompetence, this monumental failure of design.
As for endgame content, a better opening would be “where IS it?”. There’s a pachinko machine… and that’s it. There’s also a level editor which… doesn’t work, an endless mode which… is the same as the campaign, and a marble customization option which… I couldn’t find, so we’re clearly ending on good terms, here.
For lack of better words, Marble Void is shit. Painfully shit, the kind of shit you find in a public toilet, and on sight, you apologize to the toilet. It’s an abhorrent mess which plays as well as Forza Motorsport recreated with a flip book. It’s one of the worst games of the year, and even for $5, you feel robbed. I guess you could say I’m asking for too much from a $5 game, but Marble Blast was the same price, and offered twice the content, so up your game. Literally.
A pathetic attempt at being a Marble Blast clone, Marble Void convulses and dies, 10 days before the test even begins.