‘Lost Marbles’ Mixes Monkey Ball with Marble Blast

The team behind Turba is back with Lost Marbles. While this isn’t a brand new game, it is one that could have easily slipped between the cracks over the summer and has now resurfaced on Greenlight. Lost Marbles basically combines the Super Monkey Ball/Marble Madness style of gameplay with a bit of Lost Vikings as you move up to three ball types around at one time to solve puzzles. Each ball type is different, with rubber bouncing, paper being able to crumple into a smaller ball and back into a bigger one at all, and metal is able to block wind.

Each ball rolls at a different speed, with paper being the fastest, rubber being a bit slower, and metal essentially being like a tank. Puzzles offer up a lot of variety, with different kinds depending on the ball you have. If you’re rubber, you may need to bounce around the platform or be sure to stick to a tight path. If you’ve got the paper ball, you’ll want to avoid flames and wind because they’ll either incinerate you or send you flying off-screen. However, this form is still able to move objects — so you can block the wind and avoid flames (sometimes) by becoming smaller and going underneath a platform.

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There are three tiers of levels, and in the first of three, you just use one ball type per stage. In the second tier, you alternate between two types and have to figure out tougher puzzles by switching between balls using the bumpers. Essentially, you’ll need to solve a problem with only one kind of ball, and then once that problem has been solved, you can move onto the next puzzle with the other ball type. A later level involves a devilish gust of wind that you need to stop with the steel ball after moving the paper ball to another platform with the wind — but you need to keep an eye on the paper ball while doing so and move away at the right time or else the paper ball will fly off the screen. While checkpoints are relatively frequent, if you lose any ball type in a multi-ball stage, you could very well be out of luck and then have to restart from a checkpoint. It’s a bitter enough pill to swallow when it’s an early stage with relatively simple puzzles, but feels like a crushing defeat later on.

It’s a very tough game, but has a learning curve that eases you into advanced mechanics. The biggest problems with the gameplay lie in the wonky shadows and physics never quite feeling right. Each ball type feels different when rolling, but using the left stick never really feels like it’s offering you the precision it should. The shadows are also really small, and make judging depth difficult — especially when trying to make jumps. This will result in a lot of needless retries, and that’s when the camera works with you. It’s controlled with the right stick or the mouse, and strangely, only seems to move smoothly using the latter method. With a stick, movement is very jittery and sudden. It’s nearly impossible to get the camera exactly where you want it, and that will result in a lot of frustration during sections where you need it either in a 2D sidescroller setup beside the ball or directly above it to help guide you along a tight path. The frustration caused by depth, control, and camera problems is undercut by how fun the game can be, but they’re definitely worth mentioning.

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Graphically, the game looks shockingly good for something that only takes up about 300 MB. I’d say it looks better than any Monkey Ball game on a console, but isn’t quite as nice to look at as Marble Blast Ultra. The slight cel-shading given to some of the art is nice, making seeing objects a bit easier amid more complicated backgrounds. Environmental details are sharp, with little things like the mesh designs of steel looking realistic and foreboding. The music is happy and cheery, but won’t stick with you very long. The sound effects for each ball type are great, with the paper ball sounding exactly like a paper ball, the metal one sounding like a very heavy marble being rolled onto steel, and the rubber ball sounding like a marble being rolled along a wood floor.

If you enjoyed the Monkey Ball series, or Marble Blast Ultra for XBLA, you’ll enjoy this. It’s not quite on par with them, but it’s only a notch or two below them and well worth its $10 price tag. If that sounds a bit steep, then feel free to check out its demo or buy it for a very limited time as part of the Groupees Capsule Computer bundle. For $5, you can get this and eight other games. At that price, it’s an absolute no brainer, while I can only recommend it for genre fans at $10.