Columns (Game Gear) review
"If asked what your favourite puzzle games are, most you would probably reply mentioning at least one version of Tetris. Be it Tetris Worlds or Tetrisphere, the Russian puzzler is by far the world’s favourite computer game puzzle. There are, however, many alternatives to Tetris, but few which can rival its simple yet addictive gamplay. Sega though, have always liked a good challenge, and an arcade-like puzzler may be what is required to topple the Russian King from his throne of computer puzzling..."
If asked what your favourite puzzle games are, most you would probably reply mentioning at least one version of Tetris. Be it Tetris Worlds or Tetrisphere, the Russian puzzler is by far the world’s favourite computer game puzzle. There are, however, many alternatives to Tetris, but few which can rival its simple yet addictive gamplay. Sega though, have always liked a good challenge, and an arcade-like puzzler may be what is required to topple the Russian King from his throne of computer puzzling games.
When it comes to puzzle games, simplicity is the key. Overly complex puzzles should be reserved for MENSA High-IQ tests in my opinion, although others may disagree. Simplicity allows the possibility for great fun and allows the game to be played quickly and relatively easily. Columns, luckily, is a triumph of simplicity over depth of gameplay much like Tetris was back in the day.
The idea behind Columns is simple. Columns of three blocks descend towards the bottom of a container. The player must attempt to get rid of these blocks by lining up three blocks of the same colour. Lining these identical blocks up will make them disappear and any blocks above those which disappear then fall down to occupy the space of said disappearing blocks. These blocks only have to be connected slightly with each other and they don’t have to be in any sort of unison row. With me so far? The descending columns can be rearranged to your preferred order by a simple tap of the 1-button. And if you’re impatient, holding down on the D-pad will make the descending column fall down instantly. You score points for disappearing blocks and extra should the chain of blocks be bigger than 3. Once your pile of blocks gets too high and reach the top of the screen though – it’s game over. To keep things interesting, the longer you survive, the higher your level becomes and the quicker the columns plummet into the container. Once you get to the higher levels, Columns can become insanely frantic as you attempt to keep the flow of blocks steady. For a puzzle game, it really can become extremely exhilarating in the latter stages when attempting to beat those illusive high-scores.
As columns continue to plummet, the speed can become freakishly quick which is both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s genuinely one of those games which will pump increasing amounts of adrenaline – which in itself, is a rare achievement for a puzzle game. However, eventually, you’ll find that everything gets a little too fast and you won’t be able to recognise that blur of colour let alone have the reflexes to order the blocks correctly and put them in the right position. Obviously the difficulty must be raised steadily but to make it so fast you can’t clearly recognise colour anymore is unfair unless you happen to see clearly in super slow motion.
Columns, for all its simplicity is a fantastic game for killing time. It’s a brilliantly addictive game that will occupy large amounts of your time. Maybe it's a tribute to the harsh reality that all humans desire controls over lesser beings - even things as trivial or insignificant as plummeting columns. But after a few minutes of play, it becomes a struggle to quell that column rebellion and you'll find yourself pushing your thumbs to the limits of human capability just to gain control of them - to gain the satisfaction of power. Once skilled in the art of Column placement, you’ll be amazed to see the time fly by as you push yourself to reach that extra level and beyond. A nice touch for Columns is that, for a few hundredths of a second after you’ve placed a column, you can move it one or two to the right or left. This nice aftertouch means that Columns is a little more forgiving than it would have been otherwise. It allows for a small degree of correction, which is nice to have in such a tight puzzler. The only real problem with this, is that sometimes you might accidentally push a direction button on the d-pad, ruining what might have been a good score. It’s just a minor problem though, and one any good player can overcome easily.
Columns is quite a customisable game too. The difficulty level can be adjusted depending on how masochistic you feel. The columns that descend from up high can be altered in design, from ordinary coloured blocks to different fruit or gems. You can even change the amount of blocks that start at the bottom of the container every time you play, which is also a nice addition. If that wasn’t enough, you can deviate from normal ‘classic’ Columns by playing the Flash mode. In Flash mode you must attempt to rid yourself of a solitary flashing block buried beneath several layers of other blocks. It’s a much quicker and more terminal version of the normal game and is best played when you only have a little time to spare.
Fans of Tetris may feel that Columns is a little too restrictive due to the fact that you’re limited to descending vertical blocks and are unable to change the actual patterns of the blocks (hence why it’s called Columns). This, in a way, is true, but I feel that the use of Columns with various colours mean you have to be more aware of surrounding blocks if you are to survive. It may not please some people, but awareness and reflexes are the key to Columns which is what makes it such an addictive and challenging game. The franticness, simplicity and subtle skills required truly make Columns a genuinely exhilarating title. If only a few of those niggles had been care of.
Community review by ceredig (November 20, 2004)
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