STAFF REVIEW of Marble It Up! Ultra (Xbox One)

Friday, August 11, 2023.
by Adam Dileva

Marble It Up! Ultra Box art Marble Madness for the NES was one of my favorite games growing up as a kid, even with its insane difficulty. This is where my fondness for marble games must have sprouted though, as I spent an obscene amount of time with Marble Blast Ultra for Xbox 360 back in 2006 when it released as an exclusive Xbox Live Arcade title. While those days have come and gone, every now and then I think of how much I enjoyed Marble Blast Ultra, so naturally when I was made aware of a new marble game releasing, my interest was piqued. Even better, with some of the original developers of the series, Marble It Up! Ultra is now here for Xbox players and a wonderful spiritual successor to the game that I would spend hours on every night trying to climb the online leaderboards for fractions of a second improvement.

I went into Marble It Up! Ultra with meek expectations, not because I wasn’t excited for its release, but when going down ole nostalgia road it’s sometimes hard to compare to what you thought was once amazing at the time. Marble It Up! Ultra is the natural progression of the series and I’m excited to have another marble’r (I guess that’s a term now) to sink hours into, trying to go for those diamond times and climb the online leaderboards. Weighty controls, impressive visuals, great level design and a fun soundtrack all make for a sequel I’ve been waiting almost two decades for.

With a single player campaign that takes place over six chapters and four bonus chapters, there’s over 100 developer curated levels to enjoy. These levels start out easy enough, slowly increasing in difficulty by adding more obstacles, moving pathways, pits, gravity changers, bouncy floors and more. While the 100 levels won’t seem like a lot if you sit and simply try and get through them all, much of the value will come from replaying levels to try and get diamond times (medals are Copper, Silver, Gold and Diamond) or try and become the top name on the online leaderboards. Marble It Up! Ultra was built for speed running and leaderboards.

If you’ve played virtually any marble game in the last few decades, you’ll already have an idea of what to expect; Roll your marble to the goal in colorful 3D stages. Physics plays a large part in how you’ll do so, as does your ability to jump, able to carry momentum while trying to find optimal routes to the end of each stage. The quicker you complete the better ranking you get. It doesn’t get much simpler than that. Control movement of your marble with the Left Stick, camera with the Right, jump with ‘A’ and use any picked up power-ups with ‘X’. While there’s not many Power-Up types, you’ll find Super Speed, Super Jump and Floating ones placed at specific points in levels. The tutorial eases you into the basics, slowly teaching you new tricks as you become more proficient.

Could you simply roll through each level and be done with it in a few hours? Sure, but the enjoyment really comes from besting your times trying to get those elusive Diamond ranks and climbing the coveted online leaderboards. Diamond times are actually quite challenging to obtain, and you’ll need to really learn each level looking for shortcuts if you want to make the times. The best part is that once you complete a level and put your mark on the online leaderboards, you can watch ghosts of other players, seeing their strategy and crazy maneuvers so you can try and recreate and compete.

Your marble controls and feels very weighty, and while it was a little frustrating at first with the marble not moving on a dime, it makes sense given how momentum works. Eventually it just felt right, with having to start rolling in a direction well before needed if you have a ton of speed or adjusting your movement for an upcoming jump to land where you want. Then there's the ice sections, which will teach you quite quickly that sometimes speed isn't always best when you want to make sharp turns.

If you do manage to clear all the levels and looking for more, there are also Weekly Challenges that adds a whole new layer of challenge. This gives a handful of levels from the game but adds specific modifiers to the stages, completely changing your previous optimal paths. Maybe gravity is doubled, so jumping is much more difficult, or maybe there is no power-ups? There’s only been a few I’ve been able to play since release, but the possibilities are endless and I found them quite difficult.

The more you play in any mode the more currency you’ll earn, which can then be used to unlock new marbles and items to customize them. Want an Earth marble with a cowboy hat? You sure can do that if you want. Or how about a marble with a D20 in the middle? Sure. There’s a good variety of marbles and accessories, most of which can be bought with your earned currency, but some are locked behind level completions, hidden collectables or specific Diamond times. Fans of the series will be sure to notice a few throwbacks, but it’s clear how the graphical improvements from the previous game have improved and how much more realistic the marble appear.

Want to share some marble action alongside some friends? Marble It Up! Ultra includes online multiplayer that is also cross platform, so players on Xbox, Switch, and PC can all play together. While you can’t play the campaign levels together, there are some fun multiplayer modes to enjoy. Gem Hunt (Team and Free For All), Soccer, Zombies and Sumo modes are voted on after each match, then voting on which level as well. Having a blast mechanic also adds for some fun against your rivals, knocking them away or infecting if playing Zombie mode.

Rewatching some old Marble Blast Ultra footage made me realize how far the visuals have come since then. Certain marbles are clear, have items inside them and the lighting and reflections are absolutely fantastic all around. Levels are quite expansive and colorful, fitting the marble vibe I’ve missed for quite some time. The soundtrack is just as good, never becoming annoying and the marble rolling sounds aren’t as prominent as they used to be, which is great for fans playing for hours on end.

Marble It Up! Ultra reminded how much I really did miss the classic Marble Blast Ultra, and now it’s been improved in virtually every way for a new generation of rollers. While the base stages won’t take too long to complete ‘properly’, you’ll easily spend hours trying to improve your times by fractions of a second to work your way up those online leaderboards. Marble It Up! Ultra is a fantastic Roll Playing Game I’ll be jumping into for some time.

**Marble It Up! Ultra was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 9.0 / 10
Gameplay: 9.0 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 9.0 / 10


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