Review: Marble Mountain

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An ode to genre classics Marble Madness and Super Monkey Ball, Marble Mountain by Lightning Rock is a ball-rolling adventure about an orb of melted and re-solidified glass with ambitions to be the Indiana Jones of the marble village. Because of course marbles live in villages just like people. That’s so not weird at all.

This brave and adventurous marble’s quest consists of 20 stages spanning a wide range of familiar environment themes–forest, graveyard, desert, ruins, castle, volcano, and snowy mountaintops–the objective being to roll the marble to a golden elevator platform waiting at the end of each level. Standing between the marble and the finish line are increasingly precarious and narrow pathways with nothing below but bottomless air, as well as a myriad obstacles, such as collapsing platforms, seesaw bridges, surfaces slick with ice, box and switch puzzles, rollercoaster tracks, spinning blades of death, insta-kill enemy boxes, rolling skulls that laugh maniacally as they give chase and try to push your marble over the edge, and occasional action moments like having to outrun an avalanche or stream of lava, or dash across a bridge about to be collapsed by a giant boulder.

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The only method of control you need concern yourself with is steering the marble using the left analog stick of a gamepad or the WASD keys of a keyboard. Regardless of input preference, getting the marble where you want it to go is a joy thanks to responsive controls and smooth ball physics. Sometimes in these ball puzzlers the controls can be too slippery and unforgiving, but here there’s a strong sense of weight and momentum that provides a tangible connection between your inputs and the marble’s movement. It’s your fault when the ball carries over a ledge or cracks from too high a drop, not the fault of unwieldy physics.

The exception to this is the camera. Since the game uses a fixed perspective, the camera sometimes does a poor job of keeping up with the ball, particularly when following a pathway that wraps around an object or whenever there is an action that dictates a sudden angle shift. Many times you’re just going to have to lose your marbles (figuratively and literally) until you know precisely how the camera is going to react when going through a tricky area so you can make the proper adjustment to rolling trajectory on the next try. Optional support for virtual reality headsets supposedly allows you to look around to see what lies ahead, but I don’t have the equipment to test the VR mode to know whether or not it improves playability in this regard. I just know that as I played I kept wishing I could use the right analog stick of my gamepad to manually tilt the camera for a better vantage point.

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Overall, though, the game’s elaborate level designs are complemented by a very fair level of difficulty, striking the perfect balance of accessibility with a growing difficulty curve that presents a fun challenge without ever resulting to cheap tricks that discourage your want to continue. As you reach the latter stages, the game frustrates in a healthy way that keeps you motivated to learn from your mistakes and soldier on. Of course it helps that checkpoint torches are evenly spaced throughout each level, so if you ever do get stuck on a certain section the die-and-retry loop is mitigated by not having to replay large chunks of lost progress.

Setting the pace is another well balanced aspect of the game. You can take your time to enjoy the scenery and try to find hidden areas and each stage’s allotment of aurum collectibles, or you can play fast, learn shortcuts, and try to beat each level’s speedrun par time for a spot on the global leaderboards. (FYI: the leaderboards are only viewable through the Steam client, but not within the game itself.) Each level has a special marble design to unlock by collecting all of the aurums, so eventually you’ll be able to roll around as the moon, a disco ball, a yellow smiley face, a D20 dice, or a transparent globe with a cute critter running inside. The marble can even be topped off with one of half a dozen special hats that are hidden in secret areas throughout the game, such as a Viking helmet, pirate tricorn, or Indiana Jones’ iconic fedora. For a surprise trip down memory lane, the developers also tossed in four “tribute” bonus stages that will seem eerily familiar to Marble Madness fans.

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Aside from occasional camera woes, my biggest complaint is with the soundtrack. The upbeat dubstep is fine on its own, but in context all of the wub wub totally conflicts with the game’s Indiana Jones adventure vibe, to the point of becoming a distraction. Even more perplexing is the fact that the launch trailer (see page bottom) uses exactly the type of adventure anthem score that is missing from the game itself. Unfortunately, muting the music only reveals how empty the game is as far as ambient sound effects. Eventually, I just took my headphones off and played in silence.

While not the prettiest marble in the bag, Marble Mountain lives up to its pedigree as the child prodigy of Marble Madness and Super Monkey Ball. By the end, I only wished there were even more levels so I could keep on playing.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Spot-on ball handling
+ Not too easy, not too hard; the difficulty’s just right
+ Balanced pacing for speedrunners and collectible explorers
+ Unlockable Marble Madness tribute levels for the win

Cons:
– Fixed camera doesn’t always keep up
– What’s with all the wub wub?

Game Info:
Platform: PC/Mac/Linux
Publisher: Lightning Rock
Developer: Lightning Rock
Release Date: 4/5/2016
Genre: Action/Puzzle
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: 1

Source: Review code provided by developer

Buy From: Steam

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!