Marble Duel

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Marble Duel on Steam

MSRP: $4.99

Platforms: Win, Linux, iOS, Android

Release: 11/12/15


I’ve been doing this game-a-day thing for awhile now, and most of the time, the games are about what I expect.  Then every now and then, I play something like Marble Duel.  I was expecting a Zuma’s Revenge-clone, an arcade-like match-3, but discovered that this was far more strategic.  Marble Duel is a match 3, but it’s a turn-based game, going up against some pretty challenging AI opponents, with light RPG elements.

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Other variants on the match-3 theme have already successfully busted through the light RPG battle genre-barrier, but as far as I can find, this is the first one to do with with the orb-shooting match mechanic.  Each level, you’re given one or more colors of orbs available, and you take turns battling against an AI opponent.  In the screen shot above, you can only shoot red orbs, which do damage when matched, while your opponent can only shoot white orbs, which means in order for you to get damaged, he has to clear a white section that will allow three or more red orbs to connect, while you have the opportunity to do direct damage.

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Before I was even through the tutorial levels, I was finding myself struggling to complete levels in few enough turns to obtain three star completions, although you can replay levels at any time to improve your score, this indicated to me that there’s going to be a significant challenge throughout the game.  Upon reading some Steam reviews, challenge level seems to be the primary complaint, with some people even going so far as to accuse the AI of cheating.  I’m not sure if this is indicative of a too-steep difficulty curve, or a mismatch of expectations, as games that look like Marble Duel tend to be able to either be beaten by brute force or twitch gameplay (which is completely absent here).

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Every few levels, you’re given the opportunity to spend the blue gems earned through level completion on upgrading either your life total or the potency of a certain kind of orb. It’s a risky proposition, since you never know what types of orbs will be present in a given level, and it’s also a good incentive to replay early levels to achieve three star completion, since this awards more gems.

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The last thing mixing it up is the occasional ring-of-spheres level, which instead of being tactical is more similar in play style to other orb shooters – you are just expected to clear all the orbs.  I suspect these levels are scored either by number of orbs shot or by time, but there’s no clear indication, and you may just be awarded a flat number of gems for completion. This is the only place in the game I found to be poorly explained, and only in the sense that you don’t really see what contributes to your level score.

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Marble Duel is a ridiculously cutesy game – its casual appearance sets up an expectation that doesn’t deliver.  If you don’t realize it going in, you might be disappointed to find that you don’t have the zone-out experience you were expecting.  Personally, I think it’s a better game because of its depth and its differences from its contemporaries, but the reviews suffer because of it.

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