Ball Without the Monkey
If Marble Madness was made today, it would be Marble It Up! With the goal of reaching the finish line in the shortest amount of time, this ball rolling sim is ideal for players who love mastering the time trial option of any racing game.
As the title would indicate, the player controls a marble and must guide said marble through creative 3D obstacle courses. There are key gameplay and stage elements to note, however. For example, in order to roll up a hill the marble will require speed and momentum. Need to reach that next platform? Better budget your marble’s hop correctly. Each stage is composed of curves, slopes, gaps, bends, drops, ramps, lifts, gravity changes, bumpers, moving platforms, dips and many other types of hazards throughout the 40 stages. Luckily, reaching the end of the each stage isn’t too troublesome. The real challenge is reaching that end point within a short amount of time. Also, it is worth pointing out that the player actually controls the marble. I mention this because in Super Monkey Ball, an easy game to compare this to, the player actually tilts the stage, not the ball. Because of this, the marble is also fully, and tightly, controllable.
Marble It Up! controls very well. In fact, there are many things this game does right but its precision control is at the top of the list. Having tight responsive control is key to the success of this game since shaving a fraction of a second can have a major influence against the competitive scene. Even when rolling at full speed and jumping through the air, the player can still guide the marble as intended. Also, everything is easily controllable with the analog stick; do not worry about any forced gimmicky gyro controls here.
Besides maintaining speed and momentum, the other key to speed is gained through the use of power-ups strategically placed throughout the courses. Grabbing the clock item will slow the timer, the wing will allow the player to glide over long gaps, the speed symbol gives the marble a huge boost of speed, and the jump logo allows the marble to jump with great height. The few power-ups available give the game just enough spice to keep things interesting as many are optional and some can provide the risk/reward that allows for a faster time. The longer stages also have checkpoints available. However, if the player should fall off the edge, they will be sent back to the checkpoint but the clock keeps ticking. The level design also throws something new and exciting at the player from stage to stage. One early stage has the player tumbling down a massive hill like those idiots that chase that wheel of cheese in Europe each year. Why is rolling a marble down a hilly hill so fun? Perhaps it is the high rate of speed but it wound up being way more entertaining than I ever would have thought.
Upon completion, the game instantly posts and displays local fastest times and uploads it to the server for worldwide comparison. It is a seamless, instant, and welcomed transition. My only complaint with the online leaderboard function is I wish that was the default view; the player must tap the shoulder button to see the online leaderboard whereas the local score is posted first. Also, the leaderboard only lists the top 5 fastest times. It would have been better to see my specific rank against all other racers by rank and time. However, the player does have the option to watch ghost trials at the touch of a button. Learning how the pros reached the end can be an eye opening experience. There is a checklist found on the main menu which is essentially a Trophy room. Completing these tasks, like finding a hidden collectable or earning a gold rank on all tracks, will unlock different cosmetic marbles.
Unfortunately, Marble It Up! is a single player experience only. The online leaderboard functionality should keep things hot for a while, but the player can burn through all the tracks in a couple hours. The replay value comes from getting that next fastest time but not having any multiplayer component with the $19.99 price tag seems like a short changed opportunity. Super Monkey Ball, in comparison, had a ton of multiplayer games that were actually more entertaining than the actual campaign. Without multiplayer or any mini games makes the overall package a little empty. But at least the game looks good. Not only do the colors pop with some stellar vibrancy, the game runs at a smooth 60fps. It might only be a sphere rolling around some geometric shapes coated in primary colors, but it looks a lot better than expected. The soundtrack also fits the gameplay well.
Marble It Up! really is nothing more than a one-trick pony but everything it does, it does well. Even though it lacks multiplayer support or mini games, it is easy to see the amount of care that went into this non-violent, competitive racer. The Super Monkey Ball series is still more fun but Marble It Up! still carries high entertainment value.
Not As Good As: Super Monkey Ball 2
Also Try: Cluster Truck
Much Better Than: Totemball (Xbox 360 Vision Camera)