You bring the marble charging down the hill and barely reduce your speed enough to take the sharp turn. As the marble almost flies off the edge, your teeth are clenched and your palms are sweating. There is not a second to lose. You have to get to the exit! You tumble across the platform until you get to the next obstacle. The surface is covered with ice. To make things worse, there are gaps along the platform. You hold the controller ever tighter and slowly navigate. As your fingers leave a permanent imprint on the controller, you reach the exit a full five seconds under the par time. With a triumphant grin on your face, you know it is time to do it all over again in the next level!
Garage Games brings Marble Blast series to the Xbox 360 platform with Marble Blast Ultra. The game is built around an incredibly simple core concept. Your primary objective in each level is to roll your marble from the starting point to the exit, sometimes collecting gems along the way. Yet between the various obstacles you will encounter, large number of single-player levels, and a solid multiplayer component, the game can easily become rather addictive. Marble Blast Ultra is the kind of game you can sit down to play for five minutes and wonder where the past few hours went when you finally stop.
The control structure in Marble Blast Ultra is relatively simple. You move the marble with the left analog stick. The right analog stick is used to adjust the camera. You can use the jump button to help your marble go over platforms. When your marble is charged up, you can also release an energy blast to jump higher. A few different types of power-ups, such as the super jump or the super speed, are available at each level and can be used with the touch of a button. Getting accustomed to the basic controls should be fairly simple. However, gaining mastery of all the mechanics associated with controlling your marble will take a while. You will have to experiment with the behavior of the marble at different speeds, on different surfaces, or soaring through the air.
The game offers an impressive 60 single-player levels. It is possible to simply play through each level and get to the exit. But the real challenge comes from competing against the par time set for each level. The levels are divided into three different categories. The 20 beginner levels are extremely easy and for the most part intended to teach you how to play the game. The intermediate levels are remarkably more challenging, but most players should still be able to get past them under the par time after a few tries. The advanced levels on the other hand can be extremely difficult and will likely have you pulling your hair. They have many tough jumps, narrow platforms, and infuriating obstacles to put your dexterity to test. You might occasionally find yourself filled with strange desires to smash your controller through your TV or stomp on your newly purchased Xbox 360.
The types of challenges in Marble Blast Ultra include varying surfaces, gravity modifiers, narrow platforms, and jumping sequences. Icy surfaces make the marble’s behavior quite erratic and can demand a great degree of control. Fans along the walls blow strong currents of air to knock you off the edge. Gravity modifiers disorient you as you have to adjust to moving on what was the side wall a second ago. Sometimes you will have to charge down a hill at top speed to fly halfway across the level while carefully adjusting your landing. At other times you have to keep your marble almost completely still as you adjust for the perfect angle to jump to a nearby ledge. The game will also have you occasionally looking all around maze-like levels to find carefully hidden gems in faraway corners. Overall, there is a good diversity to the game play as you proceed through the various levels.
Unfortunately, the diversity in the layout of the levels does not expand to the actual coloring and tile sets available. Even though the actual challenges are different, the similar look of each level does begin to make them feel rather bland as you proceed through the game. Marble Blast Ultra could have greatly benefited from several different environment styles. Implementation of different themes, a larger number of tile types, and perhaps richer backgrounds could have enriched the gaming experience. While the levels in Marble Blast Ultra do look fairly pleasant, they lack the extra spark and stylish diversity that would have given the game a better atmosphere.
A second problem that can occasionally take away from the gaming experience is the camera. The camera does a fairly good job of following the marble for the most part. However, there are certain areas where players will be rather limited in the adjustments they can make and it becomes rather difficult to get a good view. There are also times where you will either need to make a quick adjustment to the camera or change the direction you are pushing the analog stick because the game changes the perspective from which you are viewing the action. Trying to make these kinds of adjustments, you will occasionally make mistakes and end up having to replay the section. Thankfully, the camera problems are not too frequent to seriously detract from the overall experience.
Overall, Marble Blast Ultra makes for an entertaining arcade game. It can be played in short bursts since completing any given level does not take a great deal of time. Yet the addictive game play can end up keeping you in front of the TV. There is enough content to make the game last for a long time. Players can also engage in the multiplayer components of the game and compete against others through Xbox Live. The game does lack the kind of atmosphere and style that would have taken it to the next level and made it a truly great experience. But there definitely is fun to be had in traversing the 60 levels with your bold and fearless marble. As technology advances with each passing day, titles like Marble Blast Ultra prove there is still plenty of room for classic arcade gaming.
The final grade is 76/100