Very cool coin-op arcade game of the late 1980s, made by Atari. It had some of the sharpest graphics of the time. Using a trackball, the goal was to manuever your marble through a 3D maze to the finish line before the time expired. The effort was hampered by precipitous dropoffs, steel marbles trying to ram you off course, marble-eating worms, and tricky surfaces like ice. It was a potential two player game where it was a race to the finish, and you were penalized if your competitor scrolled the screen before you could keep up on the other end. There were several levels, including one where you had to roll your marbles uphill, and another floating in space.

A few ports for personal computers were made by Electronic Arts, the best of which seemed to be the Amiga version. The Commodore 64 version had a secret level called the Water Maze which you could get to by being on the leftmost bottom platform of the first level at a certain time (I think 13 seconds). The Water Maze looked cool but it was mistake and you lost instantly, forcing you to wait for the 1541 drive to slowly reload the game.

Marble Madness not only sports fancy pseudo-3D graphics, but it was one of the first games to have music and sound effects that were closely linked to the gameplay. Different background sounds appeared as you approached various obstacles. It also had some rather detailed physics for a simple game. You could fall short distances without a problem; longer distances stunned you more, until at a certain distance, you cracked. You could carom off of obstacles and your opponent at all kinds of speeds and angles, even in midair, and certain kinds of collisions would break you. Understanding the way its inertia works is key to being able to play the game.

Marble Madness is one of those great arcade games that is deceptively difficult. It's easy to learn to play, and a few hours of practice can get you through the first few stages without any trouble. The later stages get downright nasty.

The second-to-last stage notes that "everything you know is wrong." Gravity is reversed, so that you roll up ramps... but you can still fall down off of cliffs. The inertia is completely screwed up, which has always ruined me. Even subtle things like the way you respawn are changed. (Normally, a respawn will take you back some in the level; but in this, you can respawn forward.)

The last stage is downright evil, featuring obstacles that you never encounter anywhere else in the game. So, you've got to get really good at the previous stages to even have a chance to practice. There's ground that blinks in and out of existence, super-ice (it's gold), and sticky ground. And of course, the enemies (mobile obstacles) are in the place that will screw you up the most. It's definitely beatable, though, as my roommate can demonstrate.

At least one sequel to Marble Madness was made, but it had little success in the arcade. The original game has appeared in many an arcade classic collection and is something of a cult classic.

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