Saturday, 7 January 2012

Marbled (Atari XE/XL)

It's been a while since I was really gripped by a puzzle game. This might be because I'm not especially great at them. I'm not that good at Marbled, but it keeps me coming back for more through its sheer quality of production.

Marbled is a game for the Atari 8-bit XL/XE series of computers. It's something I had to keep reminding myself because it trumps a lot of games I've played on those platforms in style and presentation, to the point of occasional disbelief. The graphics are out of this world, the music is both up-to-date (drum and bass beats on an 8-bit micro always sound so cool) and rich, and clearly sounds like a tonne of work has been put into it. Marbled is descended from an Amiga game called Marbles released in 1991, and as a man who fought on both sides of the Amiga-Atari wars of the eighties and nineties I feel I can get away with saying that Marbled's audio-visual style is more like a Commodore 64 game than an Atari 8-bit job. It's brighter looking and better sounding than the Amiga game it calls grandfather, and all the razzle dazzle is backed up by quality gameplay- this isn’t some tarty tech demo that pushes its format to the limit at the expense of entertainment playability.

The mechanics of the game are fairly simple, swapping squares around on a platform in space to allow your marble safe passage to the end square, sometimes collecting crystals on the way. The levels become head-scratchers very quickly, and I can't lie and say it's an easy game. But it's so satisfying. My fist was in the air once every five minutes in my first play of the game because Marbled is hard not in a punishing way but in a rewarding way.

The slick production helps too, it's a pretty game with a brilliant soundtrack that makes you not mind that you keep failing, and it’s damned addictive as well. There is a bit of a graphical hitch with the marble flickering at the side of the screen a fair bit, and playing this emulated I did have an issue with button presses not being registered, but in fairness this control issue could easily be a problem with my hardware or my emulator.

Getting back to the difficulty curve of the game, Marbled has gameplay I associate with my days of non-stop 16-bit gaming, engaged in holy communion with an Amiga for weekends at a time, gameplay that knocks you back and beats you up but it’s still enjoyable and victory is all the more sweeter when (or if) it comes.

Marbled is a credit to the venerable Atari 8-bit micros, which always deserve more love, and to the team who designed it. I'm diabolically shit at it but I continue to play it, knowing full well I'll probably never complete all 92 levels because it's so scandalously fun. I always try to avoid mentioning how great it is that people are still pushing the envelope of old formats in both performance and game design (because it's like going around telling astronomers that the sky is blue, everyone reading this knows that developers all over the world are doing amazing things with old machines) but damn, this game makes me disbelieve the fact I'm playing an Atari 8-bit machine. There's been a few points where I've felt I wasn't playing an 8-bit game at all.

Download the game here (from Fandal's website).
Run it using Altirra (freeware).
4 out of 5