RELEASE DATE: 04/1991 – (JP)
Hyper Marbles might sound like the name of some forgotten “xtreme” Marble Madness sequel, but it’s actually the latest entry in the Sega Game Toshokan lineup.
A refresher for those in need: Sega Game Toshokan is a Mega Drive cartridge that, when used in tandem with the Sega Mega Modem and a paid subscription, allowed Mega Drive users in Japan to download and play a variety of games, the majority of which weren’t available outside of the online service. Many of the games are smaller titles, puzzle games like Pyramid Magic or Phantasy Star II fan-fiction adventures. Many of these games are also, sadly, not very good.
I have played exactly two Sega Game Toshokan titles that I like. The first is Paddle Fighter, the first, last, and therefore best virtual air hockey game ever made. Stop shoving your favorite air hockey mobile app in my face, it doesn’t compare to the genius of Paddle Fighter. Lead designer Junetsu Kakuta and the still-unknown programmer absolutely nailed air hockey physics, and they threw in a ludicrous story with over-the-top opponents to boot. Well done.
Go revel in Paddle Fighter‘s insanity (and excellence) for awhile. Then, when you’re done, cuddle up with Hyper Marbles, the next Sega Game Toshokan game of note.
You remember marbles, yes? The game where you knock shiny glass balls into other glass balls for reasons unknown? Hyper Marbles remembers that game too, and it has rightfully decided that it’s old-fashioned. In Hyper Marbles, the marbles have turbo boosters strapped to them. They move incredibly fast (thus, “hyper”). They knock each other into electrified fences instead of outside some predetermined boundary line. Once electrified, the marbles disintegrate into ash. You read that right: the marbles here actually die. I suppose you could say… they’re playing for keeps.
You control a medium-sized blue marble, and your goal is to knock the other marbles of various sizes and colors into the electrified fences. Sounds easy enough, but those other marbles have plans of world domination. Also, they’re squirrelly, especially the lil’uns. Your turbo boost enables you to bonk the small marbles around with relative ease, but beware the big boys who take up lots of space and pack a mean punch. As in Excitebike, you can overheat if you use your boost too much. Corners are your friend when you need to recharge.
The game’s twenty stages are single-screen claustrophobic environments with five marbles vying for dominance. Depending on the stage, you’ll also find bumpers, oil slicks, or greasy purple floors (or some combination therein) – in addition to the electrified fence that fries you in an instant. A timer counts down before each stage begins, and once it’s finished, chaos reigns. Truly, these are the most hyper of marbles and their “give a damn” is forever busted. Words can not describe how quickly the marbles move in these stages. And yet, despite their aggressive speed, the marble bumping is less overwhelming as it is joyfully frenetic. Even as you die time and time again – and you will! – the game’s quick pace leaves you wanting one more round.
Despite re-releasing many of their Sega Game Toshokan games in compilations for later consoles, Hyper Marbles never saw life outside of the service. Not even on mobile, which feels like it should be home to at least twelve Hyper Marbles sequels by now. Oh well. Best to reflect on what we received, rather than mourn what could have been. A handful of Sega employees were tasked with making a cheap throwaway game about marbles for Sega’s funky online experiment, and they went above and beyond the call of duty. That’s what Nintendon’t.