There simply aren’t enough video games out there that involve rolling balls. There. I said it. While we have dozens upon dozens of online shooters or roguelikes coming out every year, it feels like the ball-rolling subgenre (sure, let’s call it that) is severely underrepresented. And with SEGA’s Super Monkey Ball series making irregular appearances at best, it feels as though it’s left to the indie scene to fill that ball-shaped void in my heart.
Marble It Up! Ultra delivers exactly the sort of Super Monkey Ball-like time I’m after. Challenging stages, colourful visuals and even a dose of silly mini-game fun thrown in for good measure.
Much like the Super Monkey Ball series, players control a ball, guiding it around an obstacle-filled stage toward a goal. The faster the time, the better the medal awarded and shards received, the latter used for purchasing cosmetics at the shop. Levels range from short and snappy to longer almost race-track-like stretches to slower and more platformer-style challenges. Special power-ups also add an interesting wrinkle into the mix offering the ability for your ball to gain a boost, leap in the air, slow down time and float like a feather. Often planted a little off the beaten path, these one-time abilities offer a nice risk/reward element to levels There’s a good mix of variety on offer across the game’s ten worlds, the only letdowns being stages forcing the player to collect gems scattered about an arena to unlock the goal. All in all, though, there’s plenty of fun to be had, so much so, you’ll find yourself eager to return to previous stages, the ambitious diamond times almost taunting you at every turn.
Also urging you to return to levels are treasure boxes, every level hiding one filled with either a new marble design, trail pattern or cosmetic. There are so many of these to find and unlock allowing you to style your marble like a beach ball, with dragon scales or even house a mini-galaxy inside. Not only that but you can throw on a pair of 3D glasses or leave a beautiful rainbow trail behind as you roll. Honestly, the designs are delightful and really drove me to collect shards or hunt every inch of a stage all just so I could roll around as a hamburger.
Online multiplayer is a welcome addition in a light-hearted party game sort of way, its selection of games silly but entertaining. Football is a neat Rocket League-lite while Zombies proves a real laugh as marbles spread a virus by tagging uninfected with a blast. Sumo is another winner as players do their best to stay within scoring zones whilst trying to avoid being knocked out themselves. Gem Hunters meanwhile is perhaps the weakest of the bunch, tasking players with gathering as many gems randomly scattered about the arena as possible. It’s… fine… but lacks the fun factor of some of the wilder modes. Cross-play is also included, a feature that will hopefully result in a bigger community of players sticking around and playing, a worry for any game these days, especially an indie title. Time will tell whether Marble It Up! Ultra will maintain an audience.
Also included are weekly challenges, each offering a selection of levels with unique modifiers like differing gravity or ball speed. With online leaderboards, these again will encourage return plays just to beat a friend’s time and claim victory.
Presentation-wise Marble It Up! Ultra is what I’d call pretty but simple, a mishmash of random floating shapes and objects in the sky or space, but pleasingly colourful ones at that. The music too is fine but not exactly the sort of catchy tunes you’ll take away with you like those found in Super Monkey Ball. They’re more chilled, a way to balance the expected frustrations you’ll inevitably face in falling off a stage over and over perhaps.
Marble It Up! Ultra is a delightfully fun time, one packed with strong level design, countless unlockables and an entertaining multiplayer component. As a big Super Monkey Ball fan, I’m always up for more marble-rolling antics and Marble It Up! Ultra is a great addition to the sadly small library fans currently have to choose from.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Marble It Up