Xbox Live Arcade Review: Marble Blast Ultra

If Marble Blast Ultra lets us in on any secrets, it's that Live Arcade games can be as advanced as any of the $60 titles sitting on a store shelf. This is arguably the most intense of the current lot, involving superb graphics, insane physics, and simple concept to create the addiction. Oh, and the multi-player is the best thing to happen to this one.

There's an obvious comparison to make, and that's to Mark Cerny's classic Marble Madness. That's also wrong. While Marble Blast does feature a few key elements, like a marble and maze-like stages, it's complete lack of enemies or "marble personality" put it into the realm of Super Monkey Ball. The challenges are similar, and you're required in many stages to pick up objects to advance.

It's not fair to make any comparisons though. Marble Blast stands on its own thanks to its inventive level design and power-ups. Stages require reverse gravity, mega jumps, explosions, and an insane amount of dexterity to complete. The player's customizable marble will need to traverse a variety of obstacles to win, and the levels are balanced enough to be clumped into one of three difficulties.

For the non-completist, Marble Blast's challenge only comes down to how much free time you have. Without enemies to push the player forward (and mercifully generous checkpoints), there's no real way to die, only a way to be pushed back. For the person who needs everything, they can attempt to complete every level under a time limit, and hopefully before thoughts of suicide set in.

For a game with no real death, Marble Blast can be infuriating. The slightest touch on the analog stick for a mere millisecond is enough to ruin anyone's day. Like games before it, this is for masochists. However, here the enjoyment comes in. You will not fully complete this game in anything less than 29.7 years unless you're some form of prodigy waiting to be discovered.

Until that time, online multi-player is where you can go to take out your aggression. The concept, like the single player game, is direct to the point: You have a ball. Other players have balls. There's a time limit. Collect a bunch of reappearing jewels.

The frantic pace is how this all comes together. By nabbing various power-ups, you can quickly gain the advantage and push opponents off a ledge or away from your own prize. Thanks to a superb physics engine, this is insanely fun with a packed room as players push constantly to gain their advantage.

It's hard to find fault with Marble Blast. It's sharp, clean look is highly professional compared to a few lackluster titles on the Arcade, and it makes challenging those stages "one more time" all the more enticing. The maddening difficulty is going to be the make-it-or-break-it deal for most people. Your tolerance and patience will directly tie into your enjoyment of Marble Blast.

(**** out of *****)

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