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Have You Played... Marble Madness?

Lost its marbles

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day, perhaps for all time.

As the debate about game difficulty seems to rear its sanctimonious head ever-more often, I always find it fascinating to look back at the puzzle games of the 1980s. They seemed to fall into two camps - explicitly easy, designed to be played and enjoyed, or murderously difficulty, designed to be utterly impossible for all of human kind. Marble Madness, at least to my 10 year old self, very firmly fell in the latter. Or so I thought.

It was a game of excruciating difficulty, as you attempted to use the woefully inept controls of your computer of choice - mine an Atari ST - to balance a twitchy ball on the narrowest of isometric obstacle courses (it was of course originally an arcade game, controlled with the more appropriate trackball). And attempt I did, over and over and over, until the first few levels were all I'd see when I closed my eyes, while the later levels would never be seen at all. Or, as it turns out I've now learned, would. Because Marble Madness was six courses long, and I had just never managed to complete the sixth course. I could get to it, just never get past it.

I was good at Marble Madness! I never knew.

Looking at screenshots is so incredibly evocative, my fingers twitching with muscle memories at the sight. The dodges, the learned patterns, the points of almost inevitable failure. And those green slinky worm things. The course designs, so simple and yet so outrageously distinctive, all look so immediately familiar thirty years later.

I spent so long with this, never knowing just how close I was to completion. Invent time travel so I can tell me.

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