Lose Your Marbles
At first glance, Lose Your Marbles doesn't look like much, but it's easily one of the most addictive PC games to come out in recent memory.
Like most great puzzlers, LYM's simple premise--rearranging marbles into rows of three, four, and five to make them disappear--quickly becomes incredibly addictive and lends itself to various strategies. LYM doesn't waste disk space with flashy visuals or overblown sounds. Instead, the bright graphics, unique noises, and fine MIDI music add up to create a solid challenge. Controls and skill levels can both be adjusted to personal taste, and the two-player and network options only increase the game's humble appeal. Roll over, Tetris--make room for Marbles.
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In the recent rush to use the very latest video, audio, and input technology in designing computer games, puzzle games alone appear to have been left behind. Force-feedback joysticks, 3D-card accelerated graphics, and Dolby surround sound are of little use in this kind of game. As a result, in recent months there have been very few commercial releases of puzzle games, with notable exceptions being Actual Entertainment's Gubble and Microsoft's . While puzzle games in recent years have included arcade action, colorful visuals and bouncy music, they tend to have a simpler and more restrained appeal than action games, war games, strategy games, adventure games or sports games.
The release of Tetris in the late 1980s was of course the watershed for puzzle games that could really take advantage of the computer's unique capabilities. People seem to forget that the reasons for this game's success included not only that it could be played only on the computer (because of the animation involved) but also -- most importantly -- that it utilized state-of-the-art graphics and sound for the time. It showed the virtues of 256-color VGA graphics and of 8-bit monaural sound in a pleasurable game environment.
Lose Your Marbles has even more a sense of frenzied fun than Tetris, including a greater multiplayer orientation, and SegaSoft's pledge to refund your money if you do not find Lose Your Marbles better than Tetris is not likely to find many takers. The goal of Lose Your Marbles (which is quite aptly named) is to get rid of all your marbles as fast as you can. You may move your rows of marbles up or down, or move a specially designated "pitch line" from right to left, in order to get 3, 4, or 5 similarly-colored marbles in an unbroken horizontal array. Once you do so, they disappear (sometimes dumping marbles on your opponent), but more and more marbles keep dropping down from the top. You win when the opponent's play area is full of marbles. While many games have emerged since Tetris that have players try to get objects of the same color or shape positioned together, Lose Your Marbles appears to be the best of the lot.
The gameplay in Lose Your Marbles is fast and furious, with more going on at any moment than in other games of this type. You can play with quite intuitive controls using the keyboard or the mouse, but I find that given all the movement involves vertical and horizontal shifts, the keyboard is preferable (this is decidedly not the kind of game where a game pad or joystick is particularly useful). You can play in single player mode against the computer, in two-player mode using the same keyboard, or against another player using a LAN. You may play at three levels of skill, with the highest making the game even more intense and fast-paced. You complete a number of rounds in each of several levels (each level has a different game board background), and after completing a level in single player mode you face a bonus round in which you have to eliminate as many marbles as possible in a specified time period. These bonus rounds are incredibly difficult and not nearly as much fun as the regular rounds. You may also accumulate bonus marbles -- named chain, column, and refugee -- at various points in the game that have special properties to aid you in losing your marbles. These bonus marbles are not always easy to come by, but they do add considerable spice and strategy to the game.
Despite its overall success, the game design has a few shortcomings. First, there is no ability to save games, so if you made it through a number of rounds and have to quit, you have to start all over again. Second, you can chose your starting game board only in practice mode or two-player mode, not in single player mode—this handicap is not only aesthetic, but also affects the availability of the special bonus marbles. Third, it would have been nice (and not very difficult) if you could have chosen among several sets of marbles to play with, but instead you are always faced with the same ones.
The graphics in the game are quite well done, given the game's requirements. A variety of textured backgrounds are available for the playing field, and the 3D multicolored marbles themselves are quite pretty. The special bonus marbles, which contain animations, are exquisite. The color choices and graphic design of the screens all seem very well thought out and nicely laid out. Of course, the game's graphics pale by comparison to today's hottest games using 16-bit color and 3D accelerator support, but more is not really needed here.
The sound effects in Lose Your Marbles are truly outstanding -- flamboyant, boisterous and wacky -- and are perfectly suited to the flavor of the game. The music, however, is a mixed bag: I found myself so turned off by the tune played during the opening level that I manually switched it with one of the tunes for a later level. All the music is quite original and well presented acoustically, but not all was as appealing as I'd hoped.
The documentation for this game is even skimpier than what one now expects, with only a very brief CD-ROM jewel case manual containing a few black-and-white pictures. Of course, the nature of this game is so straightforward that you do not really need any more than that. SegaSoft is to be congratulated for packaging Lose Your Marbles in the smallest box I have ever seen for retail game software -- if a CD case is all that's inside, why waste space and cardboard (potentially deceiving consumers) by putting it in a huge container?
The minimum system requirements are a Pentium 60 megahertz CPU, 8 MB RAM, CD-ROM drive (for installation only), 1 MB SVGA graphics card, and the Windows 95 operating system. These are about as modest requirements as you can find in newly-released games. The entire game takes up less than 18 MB of hard disk space, which is smaller than many of the game demos around these days. Lose Your Marbles is also included with the Plus Pack for Microsoft Windows 98.
I really like Lose Your Marbles, and am glad SegaSoft chose to offer a simple, fun, and engaging animated puzzle game that breaks out of the mode of what is normally on the shelves. This game is the second in the company's series of inexpensive "Desktop Distractions" (Obsidian in my view knocked Myst off its lofty perch, Lose Your Marbles (despite its minor imperfections) has a decent shot at replacing Tetris as the standard by which future action puzzles will be judged.was the first), and it is so addicting that it indeed is likely to stay on people's desktops and distract them a lot from their work. Just as SegaSoft's earlier