The story begins thus: "Recently, during the reorganization of seemingly miles of boxes, chests, and other stored and still uncatalogued knickknacks in the twisting labyrinth that makes up the non-publicly-accessed section of the Vatican Museum in Rome, there surfaced a certain chest of papers. Among them were the plans for a strange, multi-part perpetual-motion-powered puzzle machine. It is following these plans that we have rendered the puzzle so that you may work it on your computer screen -- thus making real in the virtual manner that which would otherwise remain fantasy." And so Maxis has rendered the supposed designs of Leonardo da Vinci (from manuscripts dated 1 April 1503). Each puzzle has the notes made by da Vinci concerning the current design, events surrounding it, and the exploits of his assistant, Gino. By reading the notes, you are given a glimpse into the Master's life and mind, sometimes finding clues to help with the solution. Occasionally the script is too faint or smudged to read, which can be frustrating, although I was never able to determine if it was done that way on purpose.
The puzzles themselves are fascinating, Rube Goldberg-ish style games. Different-colored marbles are dropped into funnels and wend their way through various bits of machinery. They range in difficulty from the incredibly easy (not too many of these) to incredibly tricky and time-consuming. None are so tough as to be insoluble, though towards the end I did find myself playing only one level at a sitting (sometimes taking two or three to finish a single puzzle, just to give my brain time to cool off and start fresh). I also found that keeping a notebook nearby and sketching solutions before trying them out helped tremendously.
The interface is incredibly user-friendly. To play the game, you simply click and hold the right mouse button on the marble you wish to drop, drag it to the funnel you've chosen, and let go. Everything is point and click, including level selection and loading of saved games. The important thing to remember is that there is a speed control, so you can adjust how quickly the marbles run through the machinery. This can be extremely helpful, especially on levels where timing is everything or where the solution is simple and you want the marbles to complete their routes quickly.
Once dropped, the marbles roll down a variety of spirals and slides. Trap doors set and reset, sending them in different directions, and teleporters transfer the marbles around the puzzle. The Painters will change the color of marbles that roll nearby, the Splitters will split one marble into two, sending them in different directions, and the Mergers will combine two marbles and blend their colors. There are other gadgets connected to the puzzles, such as heaters and freezers which change the temperature of the marbles, and crossbows and cannons which will throw marbles across the screen. Points can be added by flipping toggles or spinning wheels.
Throughout the game you are able to purchase new marbles -- from the cheap silver ones which are useful only as fodder (they cannot be painted or changed), to the colors provided, to the expensive black ones which change to match the receptacle color. Marble Drop allows several different people to play and will save their games separately, so each person's progression through the levels is independent of other players'. There is competitive scoring for each level which gives some incentive to achieve a higher score and not use up as many marbles. In addition to the regular levels of the game, certain puzzles have a combination-style lock. The tumblers are activated as the marbles pass over trigger points and, if timed correctly, the lock can be opened when a level is won, taking you to a secret level. These levels are usually simple, but are wonderful for adding black marbles and extra points to your inventory.
Marble Drop is a very elegant game throughout, and while there is not much variety to the graphics, it is not necessary. The animations are smooth and well-done. The only thing that could have been better were the scribbled notes in the background; I often had to get right up to the screen in order to read them.
The music in this game is beautiful, classical-style harmonies which are played when a marble reaches its correct receptacle and also when the puzzle is solved. The clicking, whirring, and rolling noises of the marbles moving through the mechanisms add to the realism and bring to mind simple childhood marble mazes and pinball machines.
Minimum Requirements: 486/66 or higher, Windows 95 or 3.x, 8 MB RAM, 20 MB hard drive space, 2X or faster CD-ROM drive, a mouse, and a SVGA card with at least 512K video RAM that supports 640x480 resolution in 256 colors
The documentation contains instructions on setup and the background story for the game, in addition to a basic overview of how the game is played. However, even if you don't feel you need this information to tackle Marble Drop, I highly recommend taking the time to read the booklet. It is written by the Leonardo da Vinci of the game and is highly funny, especially the editor's footnotes.
I loved this game. The puzzles became difficult, but not so tough as to be completely unplayable, just time-consuming. Marble Drop is also easily replayable. I found the second time through that I had forgotten the solutions and had to start from scratch. It was a nice challenge, and I hope Maxis either releases a sequel or a level builder in the near future. I want more.
Download Marble Drop
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP