The Game: You control the speed and direction of a marble which is racing other marbles to reach the finish line. Obstacles along the way include marble-eating creatures, treacherous cliffs and drawbridges, and the game’s own trakball controller! (Atari, 1983)
Memories: One of the most bizarrely abstract games to emerge from the post-Pac-Man ’80s, Marble Madness is like a virtual homage to those wooden maze-under-glass games, in which you’d try to shift the game to various angles and get a ball bearing to go where you wanted it to go. Marble Madness does away with the moving-the-whole-maze element and puts the marble under its own power – and that’s just where the frustration begins!
In the grand tradition of Lunar Lander and Asteroids, what you’re really fighting in this game is just physics, and a decently simulated set of physical rules at that. You can roll the trakball madly and give your marble an unstoppable head of steam – which works great until you need to, well, stop. Even apparent straightaways can be deceptively deadly.
The graphics and sound are worthy of note here, with gorgeously-shaded isometric 3-D environments, and almost new-age-ish music that sets a relaxed mood. And in later stages of the game, that’s about the only way Marble Madness would let you relax. It’s an often-unsung classic. A sequel, Marble Madness II: Marble Man, was under development at Atari, but never saw the light of day.