theuselessgod's Columns (Genesis) review

Not quite a classic.

The Short

Pros

- Addicting, somewhat unique puzzle game (if it is a bit like Tetris 2)

- Graphics/gems look ok

- Fun two-player game set up in a style that reminds me of Klax

- Can get quite difficult

Cons

- Music is so, so boring

- Game itself is also a bit boring and can get old pretty quick

- Speed picks up much too fast to make the game enjoyable

- Ancient Greece/Roman theme is meant to compliment Tetris' Russian theme, but doesn't pull it off

A puzzle game using jewels! How novel!

The LongIt's fairly obvious where Sega was coming from with Columns. After seeing Tetris become a massive franchise for Nintendo, obviously they wanted something of their own to compete. Thus, Columns is born, spanning all Sega systems and even getting an arcade release. With its Greek/Roman theme, "drop stuff from the top of the screen" style and 16-bit graphics, was it able to overtake Tetris?

Well, you tell me. Are they re-releasing Columnes on every device known to man for inflated prices, or is that Tetris? This isn't a hard question.

Time to bust up some gems.

The concept of Columns actually reminds me a lot of Klax, which I love (and Bejeweled, now that I think about it. And Pokemon Puzzle League. Huh.). The general goal is to get three of the same color of gem in a row to eliminate it. This can be done horizontally, vertically, or diagonally. The trick is that once gems are placed you pretty much are stuck with them; no swapping once they are down. Every titular "column" that drops down has three colors which can be shifted but never actually flipped. It's a simple concept, perhaps deceptively so.In truth, Columns can be hard to wrap your brain around after playing any of the aforementioned puzzle games. It quickly becomes a war of attrition, you against your bad moves, and unlike Tetris you really don't have an easy way out should you make a mistake. The game is relentless, where even one minor screw-up could ruin a whole chunk of rows for good.

Like most old cartridge games, Columns doesn't save your high scores. Which sucks.

The game also seems to reach insane drop speeds much quicker than other games of the genre. Right when you think you've finally figured the game out and can stop sucking, the pieces go from being on the moon to being on the surface of Jupiter, slamming down into the ground with insane speed. It's aggravating, but I will admit there's some weird appeal to starting on the hardest level and just seeing how long I can survive.The game isn't completely merciless, though. Randomly it'll drop a multi-colored awesome block, and whichever color it touches will be completely deleted. This can really save your skin, but I didn't really find any rhyme or reason as to when this lifesaving piece drops, so I guess it's just crossing your fingers and hoping.

Magic jewel, save me!

Perhaps the biggest factor in why this game didn't outshine Tetris (because despite my gripes, Columns has a relatively solid puzzle foundation) is the awful presentation. The game just looks incredibly boring. Gems are easy to differentiate, sure, but the backgrounds are ugly and nothing looks particularly good. Tetris on the NES also was bland, sure, but the lack of an attempt at an art style worked in its favor. Columns tried to do something with its Greek theme and failed, resulting in an ugly looking game.As a bonus, both the sound effects and music are really bad. Especially the music. While I'll admit the weirdly reverbed "CRASH!" every time you drop a piece is somewhat amusing, the background tune that plays is obnoxious and uninteresting. It's not the assault on your eardrums that is Loopz, but it comes close.

Thanks, Columns, I would have never figured that out on my own.

Ultimately, while I think there's some fun to be had with Columns (when playing with my wife we both got quite competitive trying to get high scores, which was pretty intense) it's usually short lived and in very short bursts. It doesn't latch its hooks into you like most of the other puzzle classics, and after a few games you'll be tired of it. It's hardly an awful puzzle game, but it is a good example of how mediocre presentation can take a game down.

Since you can grab it in the Sega 6-Pak cart for the Genesis, that would probably be your best option for getting the game (or in one of the many collection discs). Though, again, you'll probably not spend that much time with it.

Two out of five stars.

But hey, it has two title screens, so there's that.

More at http://nathanvsvideogames.blogspot.com

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