We looked into the how and why of getting this game running via emulation, and talked to community experts about Marble Madness II's unique mix of exciting arcade history and disappointing gameplay.
There is a bit of background. In 1991, seven years after the hit release of Marble Madness, Atari Games set out to create a sequel that included more of everything, as designer Bob Flanagan put it in a 2020 interview. The prototype sequel was packed with 17 large and complicated mazes, three-player support, a pinball-style bonus game, and even power-ups that let players fly across the level or crush threats in their path.
Initial tests of Marble Man cabinets with internal focus groups and at an external test location did not go well. Atari blamed the performance on the game's trackball controls, not stiff competition from new cabinets like Street Fighter II.Advertisement
The trakball is the more intuitive control to roll a marble, and it is the desired control for the high-end player, according to Atari. We would like to see if we can gain a wider audience by changing the trakball to a joystick.
We all love a good 'what if' story, [and] unreleased games like this are the closest we get to peeking into alternate realities.Video Game History Foundation Founder Frank Cifaldi
The shift to a joystick-and-accelerator-button control scheme was driven by a lack of faith in players.
The early Marble Man testers reacted badly to brief animations where the marble turned into a superhero with a face and spouted goofy sound clips. According to Atari documents, these transformations were described as "hokey, stupid, and meaningless", leading the team to remove Marble Man from the entire game.
The design choice was to target too young an audience with the Marble Man character.
The first prototype of Marble Madness II did not do as well as the second prototype. Atari Games decided to focus on Guardians of the Hood, a simple brawler with human actors, instead of redesigning Marble Madness II. Mark Cerny, who was not involved with the development of either sequel prototype, told Next Generation magazine in 1997 that at most 10 to 12 boards exist of the ill-fated Marble Madness II.