Overall Score 70%
There's a rocket on a collision course with your home planet. There's only one way to stop it - clear marbles from the screen! That's right, marbles! Hey, who said these things need to make sense? Why marbles? No idea. Why does matching them save your planet? Not a clue. Why is the number 23 on the side of the approaching rocket? Still no idea! Let's abandon the plot and look at the game itself, shall we?
Galactic Marbles combines two of the common staples of indie development - the match-3 and the marble popper. Why settle for one, when you can have both? In fact, there are three similar game modes here - Wormhole, the standard marble popper with a spacey twist, in which marbles roll along a track and you must destroy as many as you can before they reach their exit point; Guardian, in which marbles descend and must be popped before they get too low (somewhat akin to Bustamove); and Vortex, in which a spinning galaxy of marbles shields a central target that you must match. New marbles are drawn into the mass and the whole lot slowly fall towards you - don't let them get too low! In all three modes the central principles are the same - remove marbles by matching three or more of the same colour, and every marble that slips past your defence helps the rocket on its way to your homeworld. Lose too many in a level, and your world will be destroyed - game over.
Controls are perfectly simple - aside from name entry, etc, you operate Galactic Marbles entirely by mouse. The mouse movement controls a marble launcher at the bottom of the screen, which holds two marbles at a time - press the left mouse button to fire the selected one straight upwards. The right mouse button switches between the two held marbles, which often allows you to make better matches. If you separate a chunk of marbles from the main group with a match, you pop all those as well, so strategic thinking can seriously pay off. Collect bonuses that are held within key marbles by popping them - these can freeze the marbles for a few seconds, or launch a highly useful explosive marble that takes out all groups it connects to.
Graphics are fairly simple but they get the job done. Marbles are all bright, clear colours and there's no real issue with distinguishing them (though the colourblind might find this a problem). Marbles connect together in a sort of web, with lines showing the connections - proximity alone doesn't match groups; they need to be linked in this fashion. Fortunately links are usually formed quickly and sensibly. I'm somewhat baffled by one powerup, which seems to briefly give you a guiding line for your shots - this is rather pointless, since the mouse cursor is still visible on the screen and I generally use that! Marbles burst into puffs of coloured gas when matched. Movement is generally sensible, though the Wormhole game can occasionally move in very odd ways when two groups of marbles are rolling at once. I've occasionally matched a chain and had them scoot together at dizzying speed.
Sound effects are fairly limited - matching, shooting, powerups... not surprisingly, since there's not much you can actually use them with. Where Galactic Marbles picks up the points on the sound front is with the game music - a set of three classical music pieces that work remarkably well. There's a rocket ship about to collide with your planet and the marbles you're seeking to destroy are descending uncomfortably quickly... but somehow the soothing music works brilliantly, keeping you focused and relaxed even in the midst of chaos. I'm curious about the origin of these tracks - one seems to feature applause, suggesting it was a live performance.
Galactic Marbles is very easy to learn. I've already covered the controls above - the fine control of the mouse is particularly useful. Marbles can stick to any they pass too close to, so that perfect shot to the top of the screen may not work out after all, and the whole wobbly structure of them is surprisingly elastic. I have managed to make matches by simply pushing a near link together with the force of the next marble. Gameplay is random, so you might get some terrible matches on your launcher just when you wanted to clear that threatening overhang, and the pace is quite fast - he who hesitates has lost. Three difficulty modes allow you to find a skill level to match your style, and are stored on separate high score tables (I approve of this).
With three game modes and the ability to play for hours or for a few minutes at a time, this is a good game for a quick blast now and again. I'm disappointed to note that there's no endless mode or option to save your progress - you can't just stop and carry on from where you left off later. Player profiles are supported, but largely equate to what names go in the high score tables. Every game starts from level one, though for Guardian mode the actual difference in difficulty between levels is often negligible (Wormhole and Vortex, however, get noticeably more complex as levels advance).
All in all, Galactic Marbles is a rather simple game. It works rather well as a first effort, and it doesn't feature any obvious bugs or balance issues, but it seems to lack a huge amount of depth. Having three game modes helps to hide the lack of complexity in any of them. There are many games out there that feature similar gameplay mechanics and do so with many additional features (more powerups, different play modes, a sense of progression). The next step for Scientia Games is to build on this - enhanced graphics, more features, greater emphasis for the casual market - and I hope to see Galactic Marbles II here some day, with the same ease of access but a little more meat on its bones.
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