I first came across Lost Marbles at the Boston Festival of Indie Games this past September. As I walked past Binary Takeover’s booth, I couldn't help but stare at the bright ambiance emitting from the screen and the funny little marbles rolling around. I knew instantly that I wanted to preview the game -- what's not to like about sprightly graphics and marble conundrums?
As I investigated their booth, I found that Binary Takeover is an indie game studio made up of two part-time programmers who teamed up together to make Turba, a musically-driven puzzle game. Lost Marbles is their latest creation. It blends elements from games like Marble Madness and Lost Vikings, combining hazardous elements and the unique properties of various marbles to create an interesting take on puzzle games.
Lost Marbles (PC)
Developer: Binary Takeover
To be released: December 2012
Lost Marbles begins with straightforward introduction levels, which ease you into learning how each of the marbles operates. There are three types of marbles: Rubber, Paper, and Metal. Rubber balls are your basic ball -- bouncy (giving the ability to jump over obstacles) and are able to float and maneuver in water. Paper balls are fast and flexible, having the ability to shrink to avoid dangerous obstacles. Given their light weight, these balls are prone to strong winds, which can also be used to the player’s advantage. Metal balls are slow and easier to control, able to best most obstacles -- unlike paper and rubber, which are vulnerable to fire and spikes -- and contain a speed boost to give it that extra edge when moving uphill.
As the game progresses, the levels challenge your ability to solve puzzles as well as test your reflex and timing skills. Once you have the basics down, the stages grow into somewhat of a marble co-op where you’re able to freely switch between the various balls to solve puzzles within the level. For example, in the level Shock Value, the player is presented with a string of electricity running across the platform.
Rubber absorbs lightning, which would allow the paper and metal balls to pass through. However, there is a small river separating the marbles from the rest of the level, in which the paper ball cannot pass through. Either the metal or the rubber marble must make its way past the water to activate a switch, allowing fans to blow the paper ball past the water. The level continues with each marble assisting the other for all to make it to "home" (i.e. the end of the level). The game keeps track of your times, so once you’re a puzzle-solving aficionado, you'll be able to replay the level to create a new best.
Lost Marbles can be played either via keyboard or with an Xbox 360 controller. I found that the game is best played with the controller, as it gives a bit more sense of control, though it’s certainly not unplayable with the keyboard. The layout and controls are akin to something like Super Monkey Ball, which adds to the challenge as you’re not only focusing on the puzzles, but your ability to control tiny marbles on floating platforms.
I found that the level design was interesting and progressed at the right speed, yet the controls were a bit too touchy for me. This is part of the challenge though, to fine tune maneuvers in order to complete levels -- and one that makes the game so addicting to play. However, there are a few abilities that need more work including the metal ball’s speed boost (I often found that it wouldn't boost in the direction I was pointing or facing) and the sensitivity of some outside elements, such as magnets. Although frustrating, they’re not entirely game-breaking. These are details that Binary Takeover said they were currently tweaking to make gameplay more efficient.
Despite the few issues, overall I've come to enjoy the game and found myself wanting to pursue the challenges in every stage. Each stage brings bright graphics and thoughtful, unimposing background music which only add to the simplistic charm of the game. My hope is that when Lost Marbles is fully released, there will be more content in terms of levels and added challenges.
Unfortunately, due to Steam's new classifications on smaller indie games, the two minds behind Binary Takeover were not able to get Lost Marbles directly onto Steam as they did with Turba. They’re currently working through the Greenlight process (you can vote for them here). For now, a demo of the game is available on Binary Takeover's Steam page.