Sega Master System / Mark III / Game Gear
I seem to have developed some minor personality defects since becoming the resident RAZE puzzle game expert: irritability, a nasty twitch, and that faraway stare that horror movies tend to rely on for cheap effects. But I suppose it goes with the territory. Therefore, it was with some relief that I came across my newest fix, Columns, to take away those post-puzzle blues.
The premise behind Columns is to create rows and columns, diagonally, horizontally or vertically in the same colour of more than three blocks in length. Lengths of three, in assorted colours, drop from the top of the six-block wide space that you have to fill. It is possible to cycle through the colours by pressing button two, the bottom colour moves to the top and the other two slide down one block, to get them in the right order for the maximum points. Once a column is complete those pieces disappear, making room for more. Should the blocks push up over the top of the playing area it's game over.
If the blocks are placed correctly, it might be possible to clear nearly half the screen with just one drop. As some disappear, those on top will drop to form more columns and so on. It is the unpredictable chain reactions that usually yield the most points and give the game an element of surprise as you come back from that seemingly hopeless situation.
There are six types of game based on this principle, three basic elements with a timed Flash version off each. Each game has nine levels of speed and three of difficulty, represented by four, five or six colours to match. The first game is a one-player version where the object is to score as many points as possible before the screen fills up. The first of the two-player games is the same as the one-player, with each person taking turns to drop the block into place. The second two-player game, "Versus", brings in a competitive edge as each player simultaneously tries to complete more columns than the other on their own separate playfields. If one player does well then the other's play area will shrink from the bottom, forcing the existing blocks to rise nearer the game over point.
Undoubtedly, this is the best variation of the game - just like Tetris was more fun against each other on the coin-op version. Due to the games nature, it is possible to be hovering right near the top of the play area, get a chain reaction and turn the game on its head in one move. Of course, with the option of playing over nine matches, skill will eventually win out in the end.
Guess what? Columns is coming out on both the Mega Drive and Sega's new hand-held, the Game Gear. The Game Gear version will be released in con-junction with the machine early next year, while the Mega Drive version, with slightly improved graphics (not that it makes much difference), is already available in Japan.
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