Marble Mayhem: Fragile Ball is a load of balls, but don’t let that deter you through this review…
Marble Mayhem: Fragile Ball is the latest big iteration from the “momentum-based ball puzzler” genre from Bimboosoft which might surprise players and customers: this is the kind of game you usually find on the Apple App Store for 69p. Yet, instead of being a mobile release, it’s fully-realised PC software, which comes as a living, breathing contradiction: all the bluster and bravado about PC gaming over the years has told us it lives for the cutting edge in gameplay and graphics, not games that would look more at home on a Galaxy S5. However, if indie gaming teaches us anything, it’s that looks are always deceiving, meaning we need to give Fragile Ball a fair chance, and ask: does this game go balls out, or does it suffer from blue balls?
As this game is simple (that need not be a demerit), there are only two areas to acutely examine: controls and quality of the puzzles; any other element is surplus to a game of this nature. As control schemes go, Marble Mayhem’s is perfect for the style of game it tries to create. This should be familiar to everyone: you must guide your ball from the beginning to the end, dodging obstacles and ensuring not to break the titular fragile ball, and for these purposes, the control is nearly perfect. You guide the ball either by using the mouse or the arrow keys, dragging left to tilt left, and right to tilt starboard – otherwise known as “right” to fans of direction out there. Either scheme is fine but you will invariably end up favouring the mouse, as it allows for a higher level of precision in controlling the ball that is necessary for this genre. Note it says “higher” and not “perfect” or some such – the mouse is more precise but it still has the proclivity to create a disconnect between what you want the ball to do and what it actually does; it lacks a true level of fine control that allows proper mastery of the balls, meaning that this game is more frustrating than it needed to be. However, this artificial difficulty may actually be a point in the game’s favour; when the control, sometimes imprecise as it is, seems to disobey your intent, you will let out the world’s loudest profanity and put a hole in the drywall, which will only make you want victory more. To be clear: the controls are fully functional in this game, but they’ll punish reckless players, so you’re best advised to take it nice and slow if you want to get the ball in the hole.
The killer hook of this game, compared to other titles such as Labyrinth, is the nature of the ball itself; much like men who need big guns and automobiles to compensate for their tiny testes, the ball in Marble Mayhem is also fragile. This means that you must be incredibly careful not to build too much momentum as falling from too great a height means (a) the ball shattering into a million pieces and (b) an instant restart, which only adds to the wall-punchingly addictive gameplay. By the way, when they say that the ball is “fragile”, that’s not exaggeration; any obstacle (and the levels become more and more replete with them as you continue) such as flame jets, spikes, and even a raindrop can shatter you. This helps to emphasise the care needed in playing this game, but also makes it a more intense experience, in an odd way – you shouldn’t expect to breeze through the game, but if you treat the levels with respect, you might get more out of this game than you originally thought.
Where a game like this lives or dies is within the strength of its puzzles, and in that respect, Marble Mayhem will surprise you. The game endeavours to challenge you in two senses: reflex and lateral thinking; basically “what do I do” and “how do I do it”? There are some in this game that might surprise even the most jaded gamer, for instance, “half-pipe”, a puzzle where you have to use momentum to flip over a high spiky ledge, or the infuriating “Another way?” which goads you into taking an easier route which you’re immediately punished for. Something interesting is how the game lies to you with false hints that are designed chiefly to annoy, which is a great touch, and a sign that a developer cares, even if a little – they bothered to put that level of thought in. Early on, Marble Mayhem will present itself as a meaty challenge, but the truly mind-bending puzzles later might prevent you from getting balls deep so easily in this game – it’s paced at what most players will see as a stern difficulty.
Here’s an amount of strange high praise for the sound direction: the music of Fragile Ball has much in common with the very first Tekken game. No cynicism meant here: it has a smoky, Asian tone that evokes much of the work seen in the 1994 fighting game composed by Yoshies Arawaka and Takayanagi, which is a plus. It doesn’t add anything thematically to the game, but it’s something pleasant to listen to as you pull all your hair out.
This doesn’t quite extend to the graphical design, which is woeful; replete with browns, awful brick textures, and primate 3D effects reminiscent of Windows XP screensavers. It also might cause some players to become square-eyed, especially tied in with how the view of the game flits about in line with the mouse, but nobody should walk into this game expecting graphical fidelity on the level of Crysis.
Marble Mayhem: Fragile Ball was never going to set the world alight. It’s likely the worst looking game you’ll play this year, and its gameplay might be more at home on a mobile. Yet, Bimboosoft knew their limits and worked hard within their power to create a genuinely engaging and challenging puzzle game that has more than enough bang for your buck; one can find this game on sale frequently for 19p. Try this one out and you’ll have a ball.
Verdict: Better than it has any right to be, Marble Mayhem challenges and beguiles with its tricky gameplay. Who knew balls could be SO MUCH FUN?!