Review: No, I haven't lost my marbles (yet), and yes, this is a good game.
The second wave of content is starting to roll around for Xbox Live Arcade on the Xbox 360, and Marble Blast Ultra
is one of the featured titles. The basic premise is to roll a shiny marble around various floating platforms that house all manner of power-ups, pitfalls, and puzzles. Each platform puzzle has a ?par time? associated with it, and the goal is to not only beat the level, but also to beat it under par time. While the game design may be somewhat simplistic, and the attached multiplayer mode may only work for some, Marble Blast Ultra
still manages to provide a great challenge to those who want it.
The 60 single-player levels are broken up into three tiers: beginner, intermediate, and advanced. Each 20-level section of the game features an increasingly more challenging set of platform puzzles that force you to move quickly, think fast, and take risks. In fact, just experimenting and trying out random strategies really helps in the later levels, as some of the puzzles get pretty devious and unforgiving later on. The initial set of levels is mainly meant to tutor you on all things marble, and it does so by explaining how you can jump, roll, use power-ups, and use your Ultra Blast. The Ultra Blast is a technique that allows you to get an extra boost of speed or a bit higher vertical on your jumps. The Ultra Blast is tied to a meter on the lower part of your HUD, and it recharges during your journey through the level. Many puzzles will usually require some strategic use of the blast in order to get to higher altitudes or to prevent the marble from falling off the side of the map.
The controls are fairly simplistic for Marble Blast Ultra
, and this benefits the experience, overall. The marble can be bounced around with the L-trigger and it is maneuvered by left thumbstick (the right stick handles camera movement). The Ultra Blast technique is executed by nudging the right bumper and this is very helpful, as you often have little time to react when you need to press it. Many times in the later levels of the game, puzzles can seem fairly unforgiving, but it is never really because of the controls and is more due of the insane challenge that has been put into the design.
This is where the real meat of Marble Blast Ultra
comes from, actually. There will be constant challenges to figure out, especially if you want to beat the par times assigned to each level. In fact, the levels have all been designed with three levels of depth: beating the level; beating the level under par time (to varying degrees); and finding the hidden ?Easter eggs? within the level. Beating the level is pretty much doable most of the time, seeing as you can take your time and slowly get though each challenging area (this is aided by the inclusion of checkpoints within the levels). Beating par time is the next level of difficulty, and this is a great element to the experience as there are so many ways you can shave seconds off your round time. Finally, finding the Easter eggs of each level can provide another layer of challenge, as they are usually located in a very high location or somewhere obscure that might require you to fall off the map in order to get it. When you add in the fact that achievements and leaderboards tie into the motivation for getting faster times, the levels can be fairly engrossing.
Be warned, though, you will get somewhat steamed at some of the later levels, as they are really quite challenging. You'll find yourself tip-toeing along thin rails, falling through evil trap doors, getting bounced around by pinball bumpers, and blown off the map by high-powered fans. The levels will keep adding challenges and you'll have to combine previously learned skills in order to complete them. You'll also have to use the many power-ups found throughout the levels including super jumps, super speed, mega marbles (which make you much bigger), and gyro copters (allowing you to hover for a short time). The power-ups and skills are usually chained together in quick succession in order to get the best times. When these elements come together, Marble Blast Ultra
works very well, as you have a great degree of challenge, mixed in with some strong replay factor.
The multiplayer offerings of Marble Blast Ultra
allow for up to eight players to cruise around ten multiplayer-specific maps and vie for control of the constantly spawning gems; these gems are from the single-player levels, as you have to occasionally collect them in certain levels before you exit. In multiplayer, a set of them will spawn in a location and you will have to race the other combatants to them in order to gain points. The gems come in various colors, designating different values, and they spawn in somewhat challenging locations (usually). Power-ups can be used to speed or jump past your opponents, and the ?mega marble? upgrade has new meaning, as your oversized marble can punt others off the map. Most of the multiplayer is good times, but the rub comes from the fact there aren't very many maps to sink your teeth into, plus games will only be competitive with those who have learned many of the single-player skills. Often, one particular player will be rolling over the competition and getting all the gems while the other combatants just punt each other off the side, but hey, it can still be some fun times, either way. The multiplayer won't keep your attention forever, but it does support eight players and is different than some other Live Arcade offerings.
The presentation of Marble Blast Ultra
is straightforward and to the point, and it goes for efficiency and practicality. The game does look as if it could have been made on the Nintendo 64, albeit with some sharp high-resolution edges and smooth curves. This being said, visuals aren't really the point of Marble Blast Ultra
, the gameplay is key. Everything looks simplistic and colorful, with each set of levels (beginner, intermediate, advanced) having color-specific patterns on the platforms, pillars, and walls. You can change the look of your marble as well, with wacky reflections, fire, 8-ball, and happy face designs being some of the choices. There are some decent particle effects on the Ultra Blast move and on some of the level features (exits, etc.), but, again, nothing stands out as particularly memorable. Sound isn't inspired by any means and basically features one electronica track through the game that loops for each level, plus some standard bopping, bouncing, and rolling sound effects for the marble. Again, nothing is too creative, here, but nor does it really have to, as the gameplay is what counts the most.
Marble Blast Ultra
is priced at 800 Marketplace points ($10) and is worth the money if you feel you'll invest some time into the single-player experience. It has plenty of replay value in terms of getting higher scores on the leaderboards and acquiring achievements, plus the multiplayer adds some additional game time. Marble Blast Ultra
is one of the better Live Arcade titles and is pretty easy to recommend.