Retro fans will likely end up with mixed feelings about the DSI Games two-pack that contains Marble Madness and Klax. On the one hand, the port of Marble Madness has had a few details removed and is missing three of the six original arcade levels. On the other hand, Klax is arcade perfect in nearly every way, with the exception that there's no link-play option. Klax is innovative, challenging, and addictive, and this puzzle compilation is worth grabbing just to bring Klax home. Unfortunately, you have to adopt a middling port of Marble Madness along with it.
Marble Madness, first released in 1984, is widely considered to be the precursor to Sega's Super Monkey Ball. Players guide a roly-poly marble through an obstacle course filled with ramps, jumps, and marble-munching enemies. You don't have to worry about lives in the traditional sense. Instead, running into walls, falling off the course, and becoming lunch for marble-munching enemies wastes some of your time allotment while you wait for a new marble to be generated. This Game Boy Advance port is missing a few minor graphical details from the stand-up arcade game, such as the wave-motion conveyor belt in level two, but the most glaring omission is that three of the six original levels are gone. The game ends after the third level, as opposed to continuing for three more. Otherwise, the graphics are identical, for the most part, and the controls are workable. Developer Frame Studios took the original arcade graphics and shrank them down, cropping them slightly in the process to fit them into the GBA's screen dimensions. Controlling the marble with the directional pad is more difficult than it is with the arcade machine's trackball, but hairpin turns and quick stops are still very much possible once you get the hang of pressing back on the D pad to slow the marble down.
The other game on the cartridge is Klax, a rather unique puzzle game that had the misfortune to be released in 1989, at the height of the Tetris craze. Despite its untimely birth, Klax quickly developed a loyal following of rabid fans. It's one of those puzzle games that seem easy but rapidly turn challenging. You must catch colored tiles rolling down a conveyer belt and stack them by color in columns, rows, or diagonals. When you match three or more of the same color, those tiles disappear, and any blocks on top of them drop lower. The klax catcher can hold three tiles at once, and you can toss tiles back onto the conveyor to buy yourself some extra time. The game ends once you fail to catch a certain number of tiles. Again, the graphics in this version of Klax have been scaled down to fit the GBA's screen, but the squashing and cropping aren't as obvious as they are in Marble Madness. Everything about this version of Klax is identical to the original arcade game, except that it doesn't include a competitive two-player mode.
It's surprising to see just how well both games have held up in terms of their graphics and audio. The isometric courses in Marble Madness look sharp and high-tech, and the shaded tiles and industrial conveyor in Klax fake a 3D perspective quite nicely. In Marble Madness, the '80s synthesizer music that plays in the background provides quite the backdrop for the frantic race for time that happens onscreen. Meanwhile, Klax tickles the funny bone with its digitized screams and female announcer comments. Obviously, the graphics and audio don't hold a candle to the majority of today's GBA games, but they're certainly not bad for a pair of puzzle games.
Those missing levels in Marble Madness notwithstanding, a bigger problem with this compilation is that it doesn't keep track of high scores. Bragging rights were always an important aspect of classic arcade games, so it's somewhat of a bummer that you can't fire up your GBA and see your top scores each time you boot up this cartridge.
Otherwise, this is a decent two-pack for puzzle fans. Marble Madness, although cut in half, is still a fun diversion. Klax, on the other hand, is worth the price of admission.
Editor's note 09/20/05: The review originally stated Marble Madness included six levels, which is incorrect. GameSpot regrets the error.