Developer: Icon Games
Release Date: June 16, 2009
Chances are that if you're a gamer of the old-school variety, then you spent a great deal of your youth battling with Marble Madness. I remember whiling away hours with that game, trying to get through every maze in the fastest possible time, muttering and cursing under my breath every time my orb took a big spill and I had to wait for the brush and dustpan to come sweep me up, all while the timer kept ticking mercilessly. Unfortunately, the marble puzzle/racing genre has been all but dead for well over a decade, and the last attempt we saw to reboot things was Hudson's Marble Saga Kororinpa. Well, something about marbles has inspired the folks over at Icon Games and Playlogic, as they recently released Vertigo for the PC and Wii. While this game may not reach the lofty heights set by its forebears, it's still a fine title — doubly so when you consider its budget price point.
Vertigo sets you off in a giant ball known as a Xorb and then sends you out to tackle over 50 tracks spread across a number of planets. The courses run the gamut from neon-lit futuristic hover tracks to rocky planets and the ruins and rubble of a destroyed castle. There is a fair amount of variety in the game's various stages, which is nice considering the lazy way out would have been to simply keep one motif throughout and simply add on new gimmicks along the way. Quite the contrary is true; each planet is given its own sort of personality, and every stage within said planet adds its own level of spunk. Creativity definitely wasn't in short supply when they were designing this one.
The game also offers a fair number of modes, though some are more memorable than others. Single-player is divided into arcade and career paths, each with its own objectives. In arcade mode, you tackle the courses in order of difficulty, attempting to make it through each stage with a blazing time. Career mode also keeps the time aspect — awarding gold, silver and bronze medals for speed — but allows a bit more freedom when choosing tracks. This ability to jump around from course to course and planet to planet alleviates a great deal of frustration, as if you can't seem to get through one course, you can just move onto another and come back later. Furthermore, earning medals also earns you upgrade points so you can tune your Xorb to make it faster or more maneuverable. Therefore, after you've knocked out some of the easier tracks and tweaked your ball a bit, suddenly those levels that were giving you fits earlier don't seem quite so nasty anymore.
The multiplayer options are serviceable except for one mode that is so terrible that it doesn't fit at all with this otherwise fine game. There is a bowling mini-game tucked away in the menus, which you would think would be an easy slam dunk for a game that features balls flying around tracks at breakneck speed. Unfortunately, though, due to pin physics that must have been programmed by someone who's never actually bowled before and has only seen the sport in pictures, this mode is virtually unplayable. It's hard to exactly put into words exactly what makes it so awful, but just know that it's truly atrocious and should be avoided like the plague.
Vertigo is mostly motion-controlled, which is usually fine but can occasionally raise issues. Tilting the Wiimote every which direction controls the ball, and obviously how severely you tilt determines how fast you go. There are also turbo and brake buttons mapped to the controller, so if you're not getting the speed you want or careening out of control, you can simply hold the A or B button to correct your pace. The motion-sensing is solid, but attempting to quickly change direction or make very slight movements can be trying. It's very easy to go from full stop to high speed without intending to, making winding, narrow ledges particularly challenging. Add to this the fact that you only get three chances to clear any one stage before you're forced to totally restart, and there will be tracks when controllers will be sent flying across the room.
The other major control issue is the camera, which is mapped to the directional buttons. Since the viewpoint is kept tight to your Xorb at pretty much all times, you're going to spend a good deal of time swinging the camera around to get a good look at what's ahead. Unfortunately, this means you're either going to have to stop navigating and simply eat the lost time as you position the camera, or move both your ball and the view at the same moment, likely leading to disorientation and failure. It would have been nice if the game would have utilized Nunchuk support for controlling the camera, but that's not to be. The standard controls are decent, but they are one of the game's sticking points. The title also supports the Balance Board but the less said about that, the better; just stick with the traditional control scheme.
Seeing as the game is a budget title, one wouldn't expect a whole lot on the graphics and sound front, and here you get just about what you expect. The visuals are basic and functional, but they definitely won't blow you away, even for a Wii title. One area that does deserve commendation, though, is customization, as there are tons and tons of options for pimping out your Xorb with new shells, neon accents, caps and so forth. While most of the game's courses and backgrounds won't wow you, at least you can create a ball that looks pretty sweet.
Sound is similarly underwhelming, with the game's music being dominated by standard techno and forgettable electronica. Unlike a game such as Lumines, at no time will you be compelled to stop playing and start dancing. The background music in Vertigo is just that and nothing more.
I honestly didn't have really high expectations going into Vertigo, but I'm willing to admit that I was pleasantly surprised by the game. It's not going to make anyone's "Best of" year-end lists, but it's a perfectly decent little game for folks who miss the bygone days of marbles racing around improbable tracks. At its discount price, it's the sort of game you can take a risk on and not feel too bad about if it isn't your cup of tea. There's also no broom and dustpan in this one, and that's got to count for something, right?
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