Spheres gotta roll; it's just what they do. From the early days of Marble Madness to the modern mainstream hit Super Monkey Ball, orbs have been navigating through perilous mazes in search of an ever-elusive goal, fighting the clock every inch of the way. It's a simple formula that works just as well today as it did in the 80s.
Simple doesn't mean there's no room for innovation, however, and two years ago Kororinpa: Marble Mania's claim to fame was environments that could be rotated a full 360 degrees, leading to some creative and very tricky mazes. Marble Saga: Kororinpa follows roughly the same structure: roll a marble through a maze, collect crystals to activate checkpoints and the exit, and keep an eye out for green crystals used to unlock bonus levels, hidden in tricky places.
Marble Saga has plenty of tricks of its own, though, taking every idea from its predecessor and expanding on it. There are over two hundred levels across the usual themed worlds, a larger variety of toys in the levels to make life difficult, new marbles with stats that change their handling, and even a level editor. Each level also has a Kororinpart, more easily found than the green crystal, that grants a piece of junk on level's completion. Junk gets combined into parts used to create levels in the level editor, although you'll have to beat some levels several times in order to collect enough to open up everything. Thankfully, shooting for a good time is a major part of the fun, and it doesn't hurt that Marble Saga uses the Wii's motion controls better than almost any other game available.
Marble Saga's controls are very, very simple: tilt the Wii remote to tilt the maze. Hold the controller flat, the maze is completely level. Tilt it in any direction, the maze instantly orients itself that way. Turn the remote upside down and the whole maze flips over, most likely sending the marble flying into oblivion. In theory this means that any surface in the maze can be a path, although this is tempered a bit by the camera going completely spastic when you get into an area it's not expecting you to. Stay on the intended path, though, and you'll see some incredible 3D level design.
Marble Saga uses the Wii's motion controls better than almost any other game available.
While the earliest levels start off mostly flat, wide, and with plenty of walls to keep the abyss in check, this quickly gives way to sudden drops, odd angles, and inconveniently placed gaps in the floor. Devices like cannons or spring tiles toss the ball through the air, moving platforms come in all shapes and sizes, and, most importantly, the floor become a matter of opinion as full level rotation comes into play. A hill is only as steep as you let it be, walls become the floor with the twist of the remote, and there are even tiles that reverse gravity for a bit of rolling around on the ceiling.
In theory this sounds like any level should be simple, but small human errors can have ugly effects. Unlike a joystick, your hand has no natural centering built in, and the marble is going to roll in exactly the angle the remote is tilted at. Being a little off, especially when the marble bounces after a drop, can very easily lead to plummeting over the maze's edge. There's no limit on lives, so you can fail as often as you like, but losing all that time isn't going to earn a shiny new trophy. The zippiest marbles are unlocked by amassing a nice collection of gold and platinum trophies, so there's good incentive to practice those speed runs.
As the marbles get faster and your physical reflexes grant more subtle control, though, a few nagging doubts start to creep in at the edges. The marbles are a bit sticky, for example, accelerating just a bit slower than it seems they ought to. While this makes sense for the easier marbles, which are slow by design to help with cautious navigation, the faster ones just don't accelerate right. The camera is also unhelpful in places, tilting at a slight angle and throwing off the control. Marble Saga deals with camera controls by not having any, usually locking it in place at a set angle. The levels are quite good at going transparent when a wall might be blocking the view, so there's no reason for any camera movement aside from that needed to keep the ball centered. On a long level with the walls and floor changing place constantly and zero checkpoints, the last thing you need is a camera deciding it can't quite figure out what angle to display the action from.
Fortunately, these issues aren't deal-breakers. Marble Saga is an incredibly playable game with a few obnoxious quirks, but the fantastic level design and intuitive controls win out. The difficulty curve is perfect, starting at ultra-easy and reaching a satisfyingly brutality in the Hard stages. There are a huge number of levels with great replay value as you aim for a better trophy, and the level editor guarantees there's always a new challenge for those who like to make their own. Marble Saga is, basically, the single best marble-rolling game ever, and an incredible arcade challenge.