Marble Blast Ultra
Itís the simple things in life which make you smile the most, a picnic with the family on a Sunday afternoon, a few beers with the lads watching the football or even stopping to help the elderly pick up their shopping. Back in the 50ís when life was simple, there was no Oblivion, no Halo and not even a computer in sight, and instead children went to the park and kicked a football, swung on a swing and played marbles in the playground. So now in the days of high definition virtual environments where anything is possible it seems strange itís a mere game of marbles which can bring the biggest smile. Of course, this isnít the 50ís. Now we play virtual marbles through crazy golf style levels in a bid to get to the end before the clock does. And when our friends want to play with us we log into Xbox Live and join their session instead of knocking on their door. Marbles are back in townÖand as cool as ever.
The game play works how you’d expect it to, you use the left analogue to roll your marble around the level, jumping over gaps and spinning in a Sonic style mode to give yourself a speed boost. The aim of the game is simple, get to the end of the level following the arrow on the top centre of the HUD as quick as you can, picking up the required gemstone on the way. There are no lives, no enemies, you just roll and get there by any means necessary. The single player game has 60 of these levels which get progressively more difficult and allow less time to complete the level under par. The game is all about the level design and the physics, both of which are absolutely superb. When you enter a level you always know exactly what you have got to do - There are no surprises and its just a case of getting on with it. The moving platforms, the various elements of the level and the location of gemstones and power ups all contribute to the difficulty and ultimately shape the level. The first 20 levels are a walk in the park for the most part but as you progress through the second tier difficulty you will begin to notice your progress becoming hindered, with some levels requiring a huge commitment to be able to beat.
However, GarageGames followed the golden rule in making a challenging game, when you miss a jump or slide off the edge of the level, you always know itís your fault and not a horrendous glitch which appears at random. As mentioned before, itís the physics engine which really gives the game depth. One of the later second tier levels is a perfect demonstration of the skill needed, as you must gain enough momentum from a descent to reach the top of the next steep hill, which is only twice the width of your marble and has a sharp right turn at the top. Oh and this is all on ice with obstructions, so friction is your foe. Getting the right angle down the hill is simple enough, but judging just enough speed to get to the top and be able to turn hastily is another matter and will most likely have you punching your controller in frustration. But you always restart, because itís always your fault, the levels are fantastic and a joy to play. Admittedly at times the camera can at times force you to fall off the edge of the level simply because you cannot see it properly at times, in particularly when changing altitude.
The soundtrack is very sombre and relaxing, with simple techno beats which complements the tone of the game. Graphically the game is very tidy; it uses a range of soft tone colours and is generally pleasant to look at. There arenít any sharp edges or low quality backgrounds and for an arcade game of less than 50MB in size, itís a real looker. Yes, this is an Xbox Live Arcade Game and not a low budget retail game and only 800 Microsoft Points which is the equivalent of about £6.50 ($10). Thatís about as much as a 4 year old pre-owned PS2 game. For 800 points you get the meaty 60 level single player mode which will take some dedication to complete, particularly if youíre trying to beat the par times for achievements.
Also the game includes a simple but enjoyable online mode in which up to 8 players can roll around on 10 maps together in a race to collect as many gems as possible by getting from point A to point B as fast as you can using power-ups or just pure momentum. Itís not the new Halo or World of Warcraft for online gaming, but it will keep you distracted for half an hour here and there and is easily one of the most relaxed online games you will find on Live. Admittedly the gameís community isnít the biggest, It’s rare that you find more than a handful of sessions at any one time but those whom you do encounter are generally friendly. Having only one game mode and only a handful of maps which you will want to come back to online, thereís little here to keep you playing for long but it does makes it a more complete package. There are also comprehensive online leader boards for both single and multiplayer, so you can easily check to see how bad you are in comparison to the veterans. The achievements are fairly standard, awarded for completion of difficulty tiers, hidden Easter Eggs and attaining a certain score online. Their all practical to get but will still keep you occupied for longer if thatís your scene.
Marble Blast Ultra is a perfect example of what Xbox Live Arcade should be used for, simple and relaxing games which you might stick on for half an hour after work before tea, or whilst your waiting for your friend to sign in before your gaming session on something a little more intense. Itís not perfect but it is a very polished game which will keep you entertained in short bursts for a long time. For 800 points, this is near essential. Had it been released as a retail game, there is no doubt you would feel a little conned but thatís not what the game was ever intended to be. Itís everything a great game should be, simple, fun, challenging and relaxing. This is as essential for your hard drive as Geometry Wars is. An absolute blast.
Eight out of ten
- Plenty of variety in the level style
- Well balanced learning curve
- As pleasant on the eye as it is to play
- Perfectly suited to the Live Arcade
- No downloadable content
- Minimal online mode
- The latter levels may put off those who want a relaxed experience
- No offline multiplayer