A durable arcade classic that has appeared on more game systems than you can shake a stick at, Marble Madness is one of those easy to learn but hard to master contests that seems to thwart the ambitious gamer with a difficulty curve that's always just barely out of reach. The Game Gear version is as good as most others - a few corners have been cut, but the playability is intact, as are the more endearing aspects of the original coin-op.
As the name implies, the object of Marble Madness is to steer a marble through a series of mazes that form a bizarre landscape of ramps, obstacles and sneaky enemy creatures. Though there's plenty of challenge involved in steering clear of all of these hazards, your biggest enemy is the timer that dominates the top of the screen. I've seen and played many different versions of this game over the years, and it seems as though none of them really give you enough time to navigate the terrain at a comfortable pace. That's really the key to the game's appeal: It treads the fine line between challenge and frustration with the skill of a circus tightrope walker.
The most common complaint I've heard about any version of Marble Madness is a gripe that holds true for dozens of titles that range from Q*Bert to Landstalker. Some people just don't like a video game in which the main body of the game requires you to point your controller diagonally. I didn't have much of a problem with this one - the game does offer a configuration screen that allows you to change the control scheme slightly - but I do have to admit that the circular direction button on the Game Gear can't compare to the original trackball controller in the arcade version. Perhaps it's just because I've been playing so many PSP games recently, but this is the kind of game that screams for some sort of analog stick.
All things considered, Marble Madness serves as an enjoyable visit to the video game hall of fame. This version is no better or worse than all of the other ports I've seen, but at least you get to take it on the road with you. While it would have been nice to see some more effort put into the port, Marble Madness is indicative of a lot of old portable games that try to recreate some sort of arcade experience. Good, but certainly not great.