But it also added a few new rules to Newton's list, like its weird propensity to stick to two-dimensionally thin edges, or seeming desperation to refuse to turn around and throw itself off a ledge.

But as if just moving the marble weren't tricky enough, Atari Games decided it was time to introduce an evil enemy marble as soon as the second level. Along with green sausage worm creatures that gobbled you up, raising and lowering floors, a second evil enemy marble bent on your destruction, and a cruel one-minute time limit to ensure a game over was only ever seconds away.

I'm astonished by the patience I displayed as a child. My willingness to replay the same few levels of a game in the hope of just once scraping through to the next is something I would be hard pressed to generate today.

I can remember so many hours spent with Impossible Mission 2, despite never figuring out what I was supposed to do with the tapes (I still don't know to this day) and so never progressing.

I spent an idiotic portion of my life playing the first three screens of Chuckie Egg 2, never to discover what happened next. And I was content to struggle with those opening levels of Marble Madness, in a way I just cannot fathom today.

It's not okay when the initial drop frightens me.

Perhaps it's the glitchiness, the way it so often feels unfair when you fail. Or the fact that not completing one of its enormously difficult levels means having to go back and repeat the slightly less enormously difficult ones again. Whatever it is, it certainly comes down to my being a terrible person.

So of course I never knew that it was only six mazes long. Six! And people thought Homefront was short. But for me then, and seemingly for me now, it may as well be infinite for all the chance I have of ever finding out what the sixth level even looks like.

However, one of the best motivating factors for returning to the game despite all its complexity is the absolutely stunning, almost frightening soundtrack. Composed by Brad Fuller and Hal Canon, the music combines with the deathly noise as you fall and the bl-el-el-el-el-eb sound of reappearing at the most recent checkpoint to bring back too many sense memories at once.

Actually, I think I just hate this game.

In fact, I can feel traces of techniques, best paths and mistakes to avoid reawakening inside me. Recollections of a time when I was okay with endless, repetitive failure.

In fact, so much of this game just seems sinister. Its minimal design, those long, deadly drops in the Ariel maze's Formica hell, the enemies like alien organic tubes and puddles, and most horrific of all, the broom that briskly sweeps you away on failure... It's like being shown a fever dream from my childhood.

Fortunately, Marble Madness doesn't seem to have scarred me for life. Little has changed. I've spent my day filling the three-letter spaces on the high score card with "BUM", "POO" and "WEE", and shouting "not fair!" as my marble rolls backward off the narrow path. Any minute now, I expect my mum will tell me to stop playing because it's time for Scouts.

Sometimes we include links to online retail stores. If you click on one and make a purchase we may receive a small commission. For more information, go here.

Jump to comments (61)

About the author

Comments (61)

Hide low-scoring comments