Video Game #3: Marble Madness (1984)
You are a marble. All you want to do is roll downhill and cross the goal line before time runs out. In your way are killer slinkies, acid amoebas, mean black marbles, and bottomless cliffs in an existential landscape. Essentially Marble Madness is a surrealist version of that wooden marble maze game everyone seemed to have as a kid. You could also race against another player, which (if you’ve been reading this blog at all) you know means you could KNOCK YOUR BROTHER’S MARBLE INTO THE ABYSS!
At a time when fighting and shooting games were all the rage, Marble Madness was a joyful outlier, a simple race against the clock over a not-so-simple landscape. The bright isometric grid, absurdist maze and idiosyncratic soundtrack guaranteed it was exactly the sort of game you’d expect me to go crazy over. The arcade version used a heavy trackball instead of a joystick, giving this abstract video game a visceralness other titles lacked. (Despite being exported to home consoles, smart phones and emulators, this lack of a heavy trackball meant the ports were always a pale imitation of the original experience.)
It was also unique in that the game ended when you finished the last race. It should be noted, though, reaching the final level was extremely difficult, and in spite of all the quarters I dropped in this pit over the years, I never managed to get to the final maze. It remained maddeningly just out of reach.