The original Marble Mania took the simple idea of rolling a marble around a maze-like level and combined it with the innovative control of the Wii Remote to form one of the most unique and charming third-party Wii releases. The game had this simple yet addictive quality to it that made it virtually impossible to put down. In truth, about the only complaint gamers had with the game was its limited number of levels and sometimes annoying camera angles, which most fans hoped would be addressed with the game's sequel. Now here we sit with that sequel in hand which begs the question, was Hudson able to fix these few nagging issues and is Marble Saga the worthy sequel fans have been hoping for?
Marble Saga doesn't try to reinvent the wheel when it comes to the basic game play ideas of the original release, but there are a few new twists in the way the levels are designed, not to mention the various hazards you'll face. Each area has its own unique theme that comes across not only in the visual presentation, but the musical stylings as well. You'll traverse areas ranging from scorching-hot Egyptian deserts to polar ice caps, each offering up their own unique set of challenges.
Your goal in each level is to successfully roll your marble to the goal found at the end of the level. But in order to activate the goal, you'll have to pick up every crystal strung throughout each level. If you complete the level within a certain amount of time, you'll receive a trophy. The faster your time, the better the trophy you're awarded. Winning trophies is a good way to unlock some of the better marbles in the game, so it's a good incentive to keep you going back to previously completed levels in an attempt to achieve better times.
Another unique feature of Marble Saga is the level editor. As you complete levels in the game you'll be awarded special parts that you can fuse together in the Junk Factory. Fusing these items will create special level parts that can be used to create custom levels via the level editor. You can even share your level creations via the Wii console's Wi-Fi function. While this might seem like more of an afterthought than a serious game mode, it does add some replay value to the package and offers up a nice change of pace from the actual game mode.
Marble Saga adds yet another new twist to the series by introducing the use of the Wii Fit Balance Board. While you can't use the board on the regular levels, there are a host of 30 special levels specifically designed to be played using the Balance Board. The problem with using the balance board is that it's so sensitive, it makes it difficult to stay on track and it has a habit of making the player overcorrect much of the time. Fans of the Balance Board will likely get a kick out of trying out the levels, but it's not something you're going to stick with for long, as these levels tend to become a bit too frustrating later on to be much fun.
Now for a bit of bad news. While the original game play idea itself remains pretty much intact, for some unknown reason the developers saw fit to modify the physics of the game. Now the game requires you to tilt the Wii Remote almost twice as far in order to get the same degree of movement you got from the original title's physics. It makes your marble feel almost like its rolling through molasses at times. It gets a bit better once you're able to unlock some of the faster marbles, but it can be somewhat frustrating in the meantime, especially for those who are more accustomed to the physics found in the original Marble Mania release. The worst part is that there was really nothing wrong with the physics in the first place, so it makes you wonder what the developers were trying to accomplish when they started making unnecessary adjustments. It almost ruins the playing experience and more than overshadows the impressive new level designs found throughout the game.
The visuals in Marble Saga are about what you'd expect from a sequel. While they lack some of the charm of their predecessor, they still look quite colorful and detailed. Once again, the backgrounds in the game are basically just slightly blurred landscapes that fit in with the current theme of the area you're playing in, so don't expect much to look at in that respect. The good side to these uninspired backdrops is that they tend to make the actual foregrounds you're marble is rolling around on look much better than they actually are. While there's not a huge step up in graphics quality as some might expect, the added level variety more than makes up for it within the overall visual presentation.
Marble Mania featured some absolutely amazing music and sound effects, so it comes as no surprise that Marble Saga continues that tradition in fine style and adds even more sticky sweet musical tracks to the game's audio experience. Of course all of the silly sound effects are still intact, so gamers who just couldn't get enough of the cat marble meowing or the pig marble oinking should be in hog heaven, if you can excuse the pun. Making the audio package even more impressive is the Dolby Pro Logic II sound that not only adds a nice level of bass to the listening experience, but also gives all of the audio a nice spacious sound.
Like any good sequel, Marble Saga manages to build upon the unique game play ideas of the original, not to mention addresses the serious lack of levels the first game was plagued with. But for every step forward the game takes, it takes two steps backward with its sluggish physics implementation. If you've never played the first game, you might not notice it so much, but if you're a fan of the original Kororinpa release, you'd better prepare yourself for the radical change in the feel of the play control. The outstanding new level designs are a lot of fun and will most likely hold your attention long enough to unlock some of the faster marbles, but it can be a frustrating wait, especially knowing that there was nothing wrong with the way the original game played in the first place. In the end Marble Saga feels more like a wasted opportunity than the enjoyable and charming sequel it could have been.
Note: The EU/PAL version of this game is known as ‘Marbles! Balance Challenge’ and features 100 exclusive Balance Board stages which are not present in 'Marble Saga: Kororinpa'.