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Video Game / Marble Madness

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Marble Madness is a 1984 arcade game by Atari, created by Mark Cerny. The game is an isometric puzzle game, controlled by a trackball, where you lead the eponymous marble to a goal while dodging obstacles through six courses with artwork inspired by M.C. Escher. The game also features two-player competitive mode.

Not only was it the first Atari game to use the Atari System 1 hardware and be programmed in the C language, but it was also the first video game to use true stereo sound, and the first video game to use FM synthesis for sound.

Surprisingly, a sequel, titled Marble Man: Marble Madness II was in the works for release in 1991, but was cancelled at the prototype stage due to poor reception in testing markets and fear of it flopping against games such as Street Fighter II. Despite being canceled, the two prototype builds of the game circulated through the hands of collectors and made appearances at expos such as California Extreme. It wouldn't be until December 2021 that footage of the later prototype (simply titled Marble Madness II) would be uploaded online, and in May 2022, the later prototype was dumped, making it accessible to the wider public.

Compare Gyroscope, Spindizzy, and Snake Rattle 'n' Roll and, decades later, Super Monkey Ball.


  • Acid Pool: The Slimes oozing around the course are living examples of this trope.
  • Alliterative Title
  • Animate Inanimate Object: The players' marbles are made sentient in Marble Madness II.
  • The Artifact: The marbles gaining sentience in the second game is the result of the "Marble Man" persona they took on in the game's alpha build. Even when Marble Man was dropped from the beta, the marbles remain sentient.
  • Artificial Stupidity: The Steelies are susceptible to falling off the playing field without any interaction from the player.
  • Blow You Away: In reverse during the Aerial Race. Vacuums will pop up along one stretch to try and suck you off the course.
  • Cap:
    • Each player's timer can only display values up to 99 seconds. Depending on the version played, any excess time above 99 may still be credited toward the player, with the timer starting to run only after those seconds have counted down. The second game eliminates the issue by adding a third digit to each player's timer.
    • After completing the final race, players will be penalized 1,000 points from their end-of-game bonus for each marble lost. This tally will never go above 20, so the worst possible outcome is the nullification of the game's 20,000-point completion bonus; any bonus for time remaining will not be affected.
  • Color-Coded Multiplayer:
    • In two-player games, one player controls a blue marble and the other controls a red one. (The players' colors are reversed in the Genesis port.)
      • Marble Madness II adds support for an extra, green-colored player.
  • Comeback Mechanic: In the two-player mode, the first player to reach the goal wins the race and gets a five-second bonus for the next one. Also, on random occasions, a player who is about to run out of time will get 10 extra seconds, conferred by a magic wand that appears out of nowhere and taps the marble.
    • Reversed in a two-player game. If one player gets far enough ahead to scroll the other off the screen, the opponent is transported ahead a short distance and penalized five seconds.
  • Compilation Rerelease: The game has been re-released many times, most notably in Midway Arcade Treasures Vol. 1.
  • Dark Is Evil: The black "steelie" marbles will often try to impede your progress, but they can be avoided or even knocked off if they're close to an edge.
  • Isometric Projection
  • Level Goal: Marked by checkered flags... and the word "goal".
  • Mind Screw: The Silly Race, where going uphill is like going downhill and vice versa, among other things. (Gravity, though, acts perfectly normal if you fall off the track.) It even has a section full of tiny enemies that you can run over to earn bonus time and points.
    • The goal platform on the Silly Race looks like it came straight out of an M.C. Escher painting, appearing to be both above and level with the ground next to it at the same time, depending on how you look at it.
  • Minimalism: The players are marbles, the enemies are simple and abstract, and the stages are grid-textured hallways floating in a void. This approach is evident in some of the music as well, especially the Practice Race.
  • Nintendo Hard: The final three courses, due to a combo of narrow track designs and low time limits. The Ultimate Race is the worst of the lot by far, with weird track surfaces, enemies in the worst possible places, and disappearing track sections in the final run to the goal—It does not help either that, in the Master System version at least, the music has the nasty habit of occasionally playing slower in the final part, distracting you.
  • One-Hit-Point Wonder: Your marble will shatter if it falls more than a fairly small distance, and contact with a Slime will dissolve it. Shorter drops and contact with a Marble Muncher will stun it for a moment.
  • Recycled In Space: The Ultimate Race takes place in space.
  • Scoring Points: Though just moving around scores something, taking alternate routes earns more.
  • Songs in the Key of Panic: The music that plays during the Silly Race steps up in tempo and key the longer you take.

  • Timed Mission: The marble technically has infinite lives—it's the timer you have to watch out for. If it hits zero, it's Game Over.
  • A Winner Is You: The only thing you get for beating the game is "You have completed the ultimate race!", and the game shows your final score as marbles fly around the screen and you rack up a big finishing bonus.