What do you get if you cross the Super Monkey Ball series with boobs?

Apart from horrific nightmares that will plague you for weeks, you may end up getting something a little bit like this.

Many thanks to eastasiasoft for the review code.

SUPER MAID BALL
Despite the title font and the two-toned ball of the protagonist, Marble Maid isn’t quite the sexualised imitation of Super Monkey Ball that you may be expecting. In fact, aside from the odd similarity, the game has more in common with something like Glyph (a game we covered fairly recently) more than SEGA’s simian classic.

Despite what you’d expect, there is some attempt at plot within the game, but it’s simple enough that it only really serves to introduce the general context of the game more than anything. You control the titular (emphasis on the ‘tit’, of course) Marble Maid, who has arrived at a mansion that she has been hired to clean. Unfortunately it’s completely covered in dust … bunnies, which you need to clean up. Unlike normal household dust, these bunnies run, no, sprint away from you and you have to catch up to them in order to clean each stage. Along your way, you’ll bump into the evil Nega Maid (great name), who inexplicably wants to kill you for some reason that’s never actually explained. Don’t expect any attempt at plot development other than a well-animated introductory and closing cutscene. The whole story is pretty non-intrusive, and makes more sense than a baboon scientist stealing bananas, so you probably won’t mind its existence.

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LET’S CLEAN IT!
Dumping you into a hubworld, which supposedly represents the house, you can then access portals to each of the game’s worlds (rooms). There are five in total, each with a set of ten levels – plus some bonus ones for those who can find them. Like with Glyph, levels are typically non-linear and act more as open areas for you to explore. The goal is to collect a minimum of three dust bunnies before you exit the stage. Stage types vary, with some being more like a race against time, others being in the dark (sigh) and even competent boss fights, so the game does try to mix the formula up quite a bit over the couple of hours worth of playtime.

Visually, the game looks pretty solid for a budget release and each of the five worlds all have their own aesthetic style. It’s good for the most part, but the earlier worlds like the bathroom and kitchen are visually a lot more interesting that the relatively bland bedroom and wine cellar settings, which tend to be rather empty and forgettable for the most part. These later levels also suffer from other visual issues: for example, the wine cellar’s gimmick is that you can’t break any wine bottles – except that when you touch them, you just fail the stage and there’s no attempt at making it look like they’re breaking at all. Worse still, the bedroom stages are set mostly in the dark, which is not only a frustrating idea to begin with, but also means you can’t see a bloody thing most of the time. Considering how bland the visuals are for these two worlds, it makes it seem like these later stages were rushed compared to the earlier stages that look a lot more interesting. It ends the game on a little bit of a sour note, really, as the you forget about the more interesting earlier stuff as you slog through the rather tedious later stages.

One thing the game definitely needs praise for is with the controls, which work surprisingly well. Normally one of the main issues with ball rollers is with wonky physics and / or bad controls, but Marble Maid feels just right. Moving and jumping around the levels works as you’d expect, and that alone makes the game rather fun to play. It’s only let down by one element: the boost mechanic. The maid is able to charge up a boost, which ranges from a light dash to lightning fast. It’s a little hard to judge, and it’s not helped by the lowest speed being pathetically useless and the fastest throwing you uncontrollably out of bounds. It wouldn’t be so bad if it was mainly an optional addition, but you are required to use it if you want to collect most of the bunnies. As I mentioned before, they’re damn fast so the speed boost is the best way to grab them. Falling off a ledge won’t make you lose progress either and spawns you at the last bunny you collected, so it makes for an easy way to cheese 90% of the levels.

And you will want to cheese them. The dust-bunnies are so annoying to collect that you feel forced to cheat the game in order to proceed. It spoils the game a little as that is the core focus of the game and every level has you collecting these damn things. As I mentioned before, you have to collect a minimum of three and there’s little reason to get any more than that. After the first couple of worlds, I just got sick of trying to get them and ended up doing the bare minimum to see the game through.

There are unlockable modes, secret levels, minor palette swaps for your character, and even pornographic images for you to unlock in the art gallery (which is weird considering the complete lack of anything sexual in the actual game…), giving you plenty of value for the cheap asking price – but whether or not you will want to do it by the end is another thing. Whilst I enjoyed my time with it for the first half with the game, it definitely runs out of steam as it gets closer to the end.

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At the end of the day, Marble Maid has an interesting premise, but the level design fumbles a little as the game goes on. It doesn’t help either that the dust bunnies because increasingly more annoying to collect, which only encourages cheesing them to get through the game. The controls are generally pretty solid however, so it can certainly scratch that ball rolling itch for fans of the genre.