Review by Kevin Steele
If there ever was an arcade game that screamed for a 3D-remake, Marble Madness has to be it. That time has come with the arrival of Hamster Ball by Raptisoft, a modern take on Marble Madness that both honors its arcade inspiration and also builds and improves on it. The result is a slick, arcade-ready game that really does provide Marble Madness-style gameplay that is “exactly the same, only totally different.”
Okay, so playing a hamster isn’t exactly the most empowering role model, but honestly, what better character for a ball-based game? Besides, it beats being a marble. The rodent theme is played out in the rakings for each level, where you can rank anywhere from Hamster Pellet, to Guinea Pig, to Church Mouse.
Like Marble Madness, you mission is simple: race through the different levels (12 in all), avoiding obstacles and reaching the end of the course before time runs out. Sounds easier than it is.
Hamster Ball supports a number of different controls, including keyboard, mouse, trackball, and gamepads. All of the controls are active, meaning that you can switch between them during gameplay, or even combine them (such as using the mouse and keyboard at the same time for extra control).
Hamster Ball has an amazing variety of obstacles and foes, ranging from catapults, mouse traps, angry hammers, tar pits, and much more. There is almost always some unique gadet or challenge facing you as you scramble around the course.
The infamous Steely is back, reincarnated as an aggressive 8-ball, and there are lots of new enemies to either avoid or beat. Many of the obstacles are direct descendants of the obstacles in Marble Madness, but there are also plenty of new obstacles to face as well. Don't even get me started about the buzz saws which saw off parts of the course (and you as well if you don't get out of the way!)
Now That’s 3D
Like I mentioned in the introduction to this review, this is one game where adding true 3D graphics really works well. The graphics are smooth and cartoon-realistic (if there is such a phrase!). The camera zooms along with your ball, chasing along as you roll, bounce, and fly from one spot on the playfield to the next.
Hamster Ball requires a graphic card that is DirectX 8 compatible, and it certainly does seem to use the 3D features of your video card to the fullest: performance was excellent, with not a dip in frame rate, even during action-packed moments.
The screen resolution is adjustable, as is the color depth and whether the game plays full-screen or not. No matter what graphic options you choose, odds are the gameplay will be as smooth as silk.
The Way of the Weasel
Hamster Ball offers more than just one way to play the game: standard Tournament mode, “Time Trials,” and “Mirror Tournament.”
The standard Tournament mode is similar to Marble Madness, where you start at the first course and work your way to the end of the game once course at a time, trying to keep enough time at the end of each course to complete the next.
A unique feature of the tournament mode is the “Rollback” feature. If you lose a game, you can “rollback” the last course and start it over. This allows you a second chance to complete a course, but at the price of resetting your score to zero and disqualifying your score from any high scores.
As you progress through the tournament mode you unlock levels, which can then be accessed in the Time Trials mode.
Time Trials is a unique race mode, allowing you to pick any of the levels you’ve unlocked (by completing them in normal Tournament mode) and racing them.
You’re competing to beat your own personal best time, the Bronze, Silver, and Gold times for that board, or the “Weasel” time, which is the best time when every sneaky cheat and shortcut is used on a board.
At the end of the race, you can earn a medal or even the coveted Golden Weasel commemorative figurine, depending on your time.
If you decide to race the same course a second time, things get really interesting. A “ghost image” of your first run is displayed, overlaid on your current run. In essence, you can see exactly what happened during the first run as you try and complete the second run, and “race yourself” to the finish line.
This is a very unique and, frankly, addictive feature – there’s nothing like watching your first run ball fly off the edge of the board as you carefully guide your second run ball past the same problem area.
Once you’ve completed the entire tournament (all 12 boards) on either the normal or “frenzied” difficulty levels, the “Mirror Tournament” is unlocked. This is the same twelve courses, only they’ve been “flipped” left to right. Every move you’ve learned will have to be reversed if you’re going to manage to complete this mirror world.