Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Retro Game of the Day! Columns

(Available FREE on iPhone this July 4th weekend, courtesy of your buddies at Sega!)

Yep! Today's Retrogame is Columns - Sega's answer to Nintendo's mammoth question of Tetris. This game launched shortly into the Sega Genesis system's lifespan, to no one's real overall joy or wonderment - at least the game media at the time didn't take much notice of it, and that's a shame.

On the surface, Columns is about as bland-looking as they come - another game with falling lines that must be sorted. Whoopty-freakin'-do. Yeah, looking at screens of this game in advertisements of the day didn't really do much to prop it up against the likes of Toejam and Earl, Super Monaco GP or Revenge of Shinobi. It just sort of showed up there, amidst the huge flurry of similar puzzle games that launched in Tetris' might wake. But hey, at least it looked clean and presentable, if a little dull..

Anyway, one weekend I was bored and they didn't have much else on offer at the local Video Rental so I decided to give it a shot. I never got too sucked in, but somehow.. the hours melted by. I couldn't stop playing! Back in those days, I respected Tetris as much as anyone else but the whole Video Puzzle Bug hadn't quite got hold of my adolescent soul just yet (I am a fairly dedicated puzzle gamer now, by comparison). Anyway, I returned the game after that weekend and never quite looked back. I picked it up on the Turbografx-16 a couple of years ago and got TREMENDOUSLY HOOKED.

Despite it's blandness, Columns is a blast. Here's the mechanic, for those of you unfamiliar - it's a match-three. Vertical columns descend down the screen, hit the action button to shift their order. Match three (or more) like gem colors vertically, horizontally or diagonally, and they will clear, and potentially knock out chains as well (I am not sure if this was the first game to popularize the chain technique). Pile up your gems to the top of the screen and the game ends - very occasionally, a "knockout" gem will land, and whatever it touches will kill all those gems on the entire screen, potentially clearing out a huge chunk of your playfield. If you are tricky enough to land the knockout piece only partly on-screen, you can milk it further (the remnant will sit rested where it landed, and you can use it again, if that makes sense)

Very simple, very basic. The game starts out quite slow and unintersting, but if you stick with it the tension builds and the rhythm grabs you pretty good. It's really one of those dgital crack games, you build up a pretty good set and then get your butt kicked and then "ohh just one more!" Columns kinda faded into the background, I never hear people mention it too much - but it's a game I will alwas come back to now and again. So simple, but so nicely executed, and very satisfying. One of the better puzzlers and still holding!

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