REVIEW: Marble It Up! (Switch)

Simply Marbelous.

Marble platformers are less than a dime a dozen and notable entries have especially been missing in the last decade. Some offer a traditional 3D platforming experience while others feel more in line with a tabletop experience. In both cases, one’s agility is definitely tested no matter how you roll; by being in control of either the marble itself or environment to guide the marble. Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz and Kororinpa: Marble Mania have both released on Nintendo Wii in 2006, but in that same year a little indie gem known as Marble Blast Ultra released on Xbox Live for Xbox 360; a game that followed up Marble Blast Gold which is in vein a spiritual successor to the old 80’s classic Marble Madness, which sported clean high-definition graphics, clever level design and fantastic physics. 12 years later, Marble It Up! makes it onto the scene again, being a true sequel to Marble Blast Ultra and it’s better than ever. While aesthetically it invites you to familiarity, Marble It Up! proves it still has the marble game in the bag and in my eyes is the best in its class with future updates mapped out to make it the best it can be.

First things first, high-speed and precision in the hands of the player is most efficient when running at 60 frames per second. Importance of nailing 60 fps varies between games and genres, but specifically the racing/platforming/platformer genres feel it most as the most critical element to gameplay is all about timing your inputs correctly. Luckily, performance took priority in Marble It Up! and is able to deliver on its substance. Marble It Up! continues to the trend of creating one of the best games in the ball-rolling genre by focusing on a variety of elements such as a streamlined method of quickly restarting levels with a push of one button, full control of your marble in a 3D space, believable physics, collectibles & secrets in each level, experimentation within levels for speedrunners, clever level design great on their own that still encourages finding shortcuts, and 50 different cosmetics to apply to your marble. Please note that the video footage below have been captured using the Switch’s video capture featuring and has reduced the image quality and is in 30 frames per second.

Early level Normal Run/Speed Run.

 

In fact, nailing the look of the marble is important. You may be a simple sphere, but you’re the best looking one a(round). The shaders and mapping to the marbles are all unique and some even have layers. Some cosmetic options are muted, but the ones with the most noticeable shininess reflect the actual environment as opposed to being the one same cube-map texture for every level. The details of a perfect sphere goes a long way. Personalizing your own marble can be done via menu, but unlocking them all requires players to find trophies. Hidden away, and sometimes in plain view, players can find a trophy in every level. A little exploration may surprise you with a trophy behind a wall while other trophies require a bit of platforming finesse to collect. Finding a solution to some adds a bit of puzzle element to them and is part of the joy.

Each level has an end goal in sight and it’s only a matter of reaching it. 40 levels are spread across 4 different worlds and new mechanics get introduced as well as difficulty ramping up. Players can obtain a Bronze, Silver & Gold ranking for each level. A special Diamond ranking is earned if completed in a very timely fashion utilizing player skill and environmental tricks to your advantage. Controlling the marble is done by the left analog stick. The two other abilities of jump (ZL or B) and using an item (ZR or Y). No other inputs are used and there is no custom input mapping. I would rather have the trigger buttons swapped, but ultimately it didn’t impact gameplay.

The level design and ideas are easily the best this genre has to offer. Various platforms move on their own. Some platforms move only when you roll onto them. Ice platforms can make turns very slippery and harder to control. There maybe be bumpers reminiscent of pinball that bounces players off the stage, although it could prove useful for shortcuts as well. Some levels require all the gems to be collected before one can finish it. In Super Mario Galaxy style, players can change gravity by rolling across specific platforms. If a player decides to reach a platform that looks like it defies gravity before actually rolling over the platform that transitions the switch, players will fall to the deep void. In essence, speedrunning still has its limits confined to the level’s mechanics for the most part. There’s still a lot that can done, however. This is thanks to the physics. Players can feel the momentum and weight of the marble. Marble It Up! is fun based on how the controls feel alone.

Add incentives to explore each level for secrets, get the best time, & find new shortcuts, and you end up with a ball-rolling puzzle-platformer that does more than just getting from point A to point B calling it a day. Of course, players are still free to enjoy Marble It Up! that way, but it does a little more by being creative thanks to hand-crafted levels designed to get to point C as well. The game also features local and global leaderboards. One of the coolest features is being able to watch the replay from other people. Player can even race their ghosts to hone their skills or just to see what methods they used to complete levels. One can race their own ghosts if they wish. In replay mode, players are able to fast forward and rewind time as well as having full camera control in the process. A free camera mode allows players to explore the replay in a full 3D space and remove hud elements. Good for taking pictures or admiring how great the marbles look. The environments also display some nice colors with lighting on reflective surfaces. Clouds dissipate when you zip through them. Various neon lighting effects with different shapes animate in retro-techno themed levels. Dawn/Dusk hues fill the space. Stars twinkle in the sky. Simple, but stellar vibes across the levels.

Can you find all the secrets? 🙂

 

Items in levels can change how they are played in more ways than one. Usually, items are meant to be used to get to the next section of the level, but they are also handy for speedrunning and shortcuts as well. Collecting the spring arrow icon on the level allows for players to super jump achieving great heights, while collecting the lighting icon allows players to get a serious speed boost. Careful, though, as you might fly off the stage.

Bad Habit Productions has layed out a roadmap for the near future that plans to extend Marble It Up! by a substantial amount. More levels are planned to release eventually in a map pack. A free multiplayer mode will allow races which should provide a nice hectic time. A level creator is even planned, although for the PC version only. However, certain user-created levels will be selected and be available for download on consoles.

Marble It Up! runs great at 60 fps in both docked and handheld. Just like its predecessor, it sounds amazing, too. The number of tracks provided by Solovox are groovy and upbeat electronica that would straight up put me in the mood to keep playing if the core gameplay didn’t already do that. The game’s listed features mention HD rumble, and so far that’s the biggest disappointment. HD rumble has a presence, but shies away from its full potential. Even when it does appear, the strength of its effect is quite weak. I was hoping to feel every crack, groove and bump on the surface of the levels, but it’s simply not there. The only time it does show up is when you make a hard impact on a surface or using an item, but even then it’s subtle. Hopefully the creators take note and address this in a future update as HD rumble, especially for this type of game, would be quite awesome.

 

Summary
The true successor to 2006's Marble Blast Ultra is finally here. Marble It Up! carries the torch and is even better than before. It looks stellar. It feels finely polished. Or does it look finely polished and feel stellar? True to both, really. The level design is clever and the future updates are promising. Multiplayer mode will be a good addition. As a Super Monkey Ball fan who has been constantly craving for another entry in the series, I've been a little disappointed that nothing has been made to grab my attention and that a game after Marble Blast Ultra hasn't seen the light of day. Marble It Up! not only does its series justice but proves it's got what it takes to be the best in the genre. Don't stop now. Keep rolling!
Good
  • Fantastic physics and level design.
  • Incentive to replay levels.
  • Leaderboards with replays.
  • Dope soundtrack.
Bad
  • All these years, hoped for more levels.
  • HD rumble disappointing.
8.8
Pretty Good
Gameplay - 9
Visual - 8.5
Audio - 9
Value - 8.75

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