Losing Your Marbles

Sunday Coders’ Marball Odyssey (Out Now for $0.99; Lite) has so much going for it: sky islands, round things that transform, and physics in a front-and-center gameplay role. Admittedly drawing inspiration from Marble Madness, Marball Odyssey has the player guiding a ball through tilt-controlled environments, solving challenges along the way. These include walls that can be leapt over with help from bumpers, find-the-switch puzzles, and, most interestingly, transformations that make the ball gain size and weight, allowing it to crush barriers at the cost of speed and stopping ability.

Marball Odyssey‘s complex environments and transformational solutions lend it some of the same magic I sensed in Wisp: Eira’s Tale, which is high praise for Sunday Coders’ level design sense. Unfortunately, a number of factors keep me from loving this one as much as I want to!

Marball Odyssey‘s live tutorial is much appreciated, but its spotty instructionals leave out one critical detail: if the player is to entertain any hope of making it to the end of a level before an unforgiving timer expires, he or she must seek out and roll the ball over checkpoint buttons that double as time extensions. Should the timer run out – a surety, given the player’s yearning to actually explore Marball Odyssey‘s gorgeously rendered levels – the player is punted back to the beginning of the level regardless of progress and checkpoint access. Once that timer gets down to a few seconds, the player’s best option is to commit marble seppuku and roll right off the nearest edge to take advantage of the fact that the marble’s demise is less of a setback than timer expiration — a real head-scratcher of a game design quirk.

In any case, the extraordinarily tight level timer keeps the player focused on simply gunning it for exits instead of taking joy in exploring and overcoming obstacles that yield bonuses to his or her Game Center score. Just reaching the exit is a puzzle painstakingly unraveled in frustrating fits and starts, the player using precious seconds of each from-the-top retry to probe in different directions until the correct sequence of events is discovered. There’s definitely an audience for this kind of balls-to-the-wall challenge, but I would have preferred it in a survival mode to go along with a more lax adventure mode where the player has some time for real exploration and critical thinking.

I also take issue with Marball Odyssey’s interface. The default tilt control auto-calibrates at the beginning of each level, which I found inferior to tilt interfaces that give the player manual control over both tilt angle and sensitivity. Thankfully Marball Odyssey offers a virtual D-pad as backup. However, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it would perform even better with a virtual joystick, as the D-pad control points are spread far enough apart to hinder the player’s turning ability. Should the player choose to use the virtual D-pad, he or she will have to re-specify that choice every time a level begins anew — that includes timeouts, running out of lives, and progressing to the next level.

Marball Odyssey has beautifully rendered environments and a great music track going for it, though more tracks would definitely be welcome! While the player can bring some iTunes music in to supplement Marball Odyssey’s continuous looping track, the game currently forces the player to silence its sound effects while exercising this option. Marball Odyssey’s fifteen levels are good for a few hours’ entertainment — especially given the number of times they’ll be retried.

iFanzine Verdict: As a hyper-pressurized action/adventure title, Marball Odyssey simply doesn’t afford the player enough time to stop and smell the roses. On the upside, this is one that could improve considerably in updates. With superior interface options and a game mode that doesn’t subject the player to quite as much time pressure, Marball Odyssey‘s excellent level design would have the chance to shine that it so deserves.

[xrr rating=3/5]