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Publisher: GarageGames    Genre: Arcade
Min OS X: 10.1    CPU: G4    RAM: 64 MB

Marble Blast Gold
January 28, 2003 | Eddie Park

Click to enlarge
I remember being enamored of a game called Marble Madness back in my elementary school days. From the first time I saw it, there was just something compelling about steering a blue marble through various obstacle courses, dodging various hazards and taking advantage of various devices in order to make it to the goal line, all the while fighting the clock.

Unfortunately, being of the Apple IIe persuasion, I couldn't play this game at home. That being the case, I used to bug one of my Commodore 64-using friends relentlessly in order to play the game. Given the fact that he always wanted to play Ice Hockey on the old NES, I rarely logged more than 5 minutes every few days on the game, but those 5 minutes were definitely high spots during those days.

Thankfully, the GarageGames and Monster Studios crews also seem to have a bent toward marble-based games. Using the modular Torque engine, they've produced Marble Blast, a game that plays remarkably like the Marble Madness of old, but adds a host of modern twists and mechanics that create a fairly unique gaming experience.

Big Eyes, Small Roar
One of the things about Blast that immediately grabs your attention is the graphical presentation. The game boasts a slew of bright, bold colors and large shapes that make the game extremely easy to view - no squinting is required here to make out any details. The player-controlled marble itself is a rainbow swirl of colors that looks pretty cool when in motion, and various impacts and other environmental factors can cause the marble to give off sparks or other effects as it moves around.

To make viewing the game even easier, players are given almost complete control of the camera. While the marble does stay pointedly fixed just below the middle of the screen, the camera can be rotated along any axis up to 180 degrees, stopping when the playing field gets level with the X-axis. The camera can be controlled with the mouse or keyboard, though FPS veterans will doubtless find the mouse more intuitive. When coupled with the standard W-S-A-D control scheme for moving the marble around, it gives players a good degree of flexibility and ease with which to navigate.

Other options include resolution selections up to 1024x768 and the ability to run in windowed or fullscreen mode. Unfortunately, Blast seems to suffer from what I believe is the QuickTime 6.1 compatibility bug, and crashed my computer whenever I attempted to change any of the graphic settings. This affects the current version, which is 1.3, and I'm hoping that a future update will correct the bug.

The sound effects, on the other hand, aren't nearly as memorable as the graphics. The marble itself doesn't make as much noise as I would like, being content to make the occasional squeaking, sliding, or bouncing noise depending on what it was doing. All of the sounds it produces are fairly quiet and understated, and don't seem to add a lot to the game itself. A deep announcer's voice does pop up whenever one grabs a power-up, proclaiming that power-up's title for all to hear, but that's about the loudest sound I was able to get out of the game.

The soundtrack features a series of jaunty, bouncy tunes that fit the game's circus-type atmosphere pretty well. Unfortunately, not being a big fan of such tunes, it took me about 15 seconds to head back to the sound options menu. Thankfully, there are separate sliders for music and sound effects, and I was much more content after turning off the in-game music and firing up iTunes instead.

For those that prefer the music to be in-game, the Read Me file included with Blast gives instructions on how to add your own .ogg (ogg/vorbis) files. While I found running iTunes in the background to be a better solution, it's still pretty cool that they made this option available.


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