A Lost Arcade Classic Has Abruptly Appeared Online

A Lost Arcade Classic Has Abruptly Appeared Online
Image: Atari

Marble Madness 2, a prototype sequel scrapped by Atari in the 1990s, has long been considered a holy grail among MAME emulator aficionados. Outside of a handful of collectors that have been able to come by increasingly rare cabinets, the game simply wasn’t something the public could play. There was no ROM, there was no playable build. Marble Madness 2 was a true video game artefact.

And then this week, seemingly out of nowhere, a complete and working Marble Madness 2 ROM was released onto the internet.

The story, which comes from Kyle Orland at Ars Technica, is a wild one and I heartily encourage you to read it in full. However, for those strapped for time, let me give you a digest.

Marble Madness was a puzzle game about moving a marble around a series of intricate platform levels. Getting the slippery little ball from one end of a level to the other was a test of patience as much as skill, and it became a favourite in arcades and home consoles across the mid-80s. In the early 1990s, Atari decided it wanted a sequel and tasked designer Bob Flanagan with its creation. Flanagan’s brief was of the “more is more” variety and so he created a version of the game that went harder than the original on every front. Subtitled Marble Man, it featured power-ups, trickier puzzles, and even let the game’s eponymous marble turn into a muscular beefcake.

By the time the game went into testing, seven years had passed since the original’s release. In a world full of Street Fighter cabinets, Marble Madness 2 couldn’t compete. Flanagan’s game was met with focus group criticism, mostly around its challenging trackball controls. Atari ordered a change to joystick and accelerator button controls to mimic the home market, but it ultimately wasn’t enough.

The game was scrapped, with test cabinets slipping into the hands of collectors, and its memory into the annals of gaming history.

Those collectors jealously guarded Marble Madness 2, keeping it from the clutches of the internet as a matter of preservation. Though collectors had dumped the game’s ROM for safekeeping, copies somehow never made their way online.

Until this week, when a Git repository containing a complete Marble Madness 2 ROM appeared online and started moving through emulation circles like wildfire.

No one knows who uploaded the ROM. No one really knows how it got out.

What is certain is that an important piece of unreleased video game history is now available for public consumption, for good. The collectors may balk, that’s their right, but there’s an argument to be made that a game no one can play holds little value at all.

May you roll well.

Source: Ars Technica

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