Review: Columns Crown (Game Boy Advance)

In this review, we collect the gems in the Game Boy Advance game Columns Crown. We find out how well this puzzle game plays.

This game was released in 2002 and is one of a number of versions of columns that is out there.

We have some familiarity with this game. We first tried the Sega Genesis version of Columns. That game wound up being pretty decent. Next up, we tried Columns III: Revenge of the Columns. That game wound up being fairly mediocre. So, we thought we’d try this version to see what it’s like.

The story is that the princess is in possession of a crown. This crown is supposed to have 24 gems in it. Once the crown has the 24 gems, the princess can make a wish. Unfortunately, after searching the castle, she was only able to find a couple of gems. As a result, she must enlist the help of her friends who opt to help her on her mission to complete the gem.

The game itself largely features three different modes of play: Survival, Vs, and Flash.

Survival is just a one player mode that pits you against a series of levels. As you complete rows, your power meter will rise. Complete the meter and advance to the next level. You’ll also be given a special gem piece that is black. The gem it touches on the bottom will disappear along with any other gems in the board with the same colour. It’s game over when you get stacked.

Vs. mode pits you against the computer player. You’ll be able to take on a small series of opponents of ever increasing skill. Before each match, you’ll be able to select your power gems. If you complete a certain number of rows or columns or diagonals, the special gem will appear. Clear out the special gem (in the beginning, typically blue) and activate its power on either yourself (if beneficial) or your opponent (if it impedes play). The two different avatars feature different sets of power gems at the beginning. Beat the game and unlock even more power gems.

Flash is a timed and more puzzle-like version of Columns. You start with any number of predetermined board layouts. The goal is to clear out the selected gem or gems to move on to the next level. Just be warned, though, that each level is timed. Run out of time and you’ll lose. Get stacked and you also lose. Many levels feature a couple of minutes to get there, but a few levels only give you a few seconds to determine the proper placement of the piece that clears the gem (and sometimes the whole board in the process).

If you do well in any mode, you’ll obtain additional gems for the crown. You can get 3 in vs CPU mode. For us, it was unclear how many you can get in the remaining modes.

Every 5 levels in Flash mode nets you a gem. In vs mode, the last few opponents each has a gem that you can obtain. That’s, unfortunately, all we know.

One of the biggest problems with previous games that we’ve played is that it seemed like both halves of a game divided into two different games. This game finally marries vs and single player modes into one single game. So, initially, it was exciting to see that in the menu system.

Unfortunately, the modes are generally quite difficult. Marathon mode, which we thought would be the mode we’d do well in, suffers from sudden and unexpected difficulty spikes. Initially, we get nice slow moving pieces so we could get our bearings. Suddenly, though, we get almost infinite gravity where pieces almost fall instantly. Luckily, our practice with previous games in the series allowed us to survive some of these random speed boosts. If you survive for long enough, the game randomly slows down again and you continue as per normal. While we can survive these sometimes, it’s doubtful a player new to the series would.

Vs. mode is a little more reasonable. The difficulty curve is much more normal, though it is a bit steep after a while. Many initial opponents are slow enough that a novice player could keep up with them. Unfortunately, there is a very steep difficulty curve point where opponents suddenly go extremely fast, so novice players will likely hit a wall when they meet a certain opponent.

Flash mode can be quite annoying. Some of the initial boards are somewhat reasonable, but a few boards early on only give you a few seconds to figure out the specific drops you need to do to clear the board. Additionally, finding ways to wear down the stack to get to a lower gem can be extremely time consuming – especially in a timed environment. It wound up being pretty difficult to survive more than a dozen levels before we became motivated to not continue any further.

What’s more is that the progress tree is pretty obscure. You just had to know how many gems you’ve collected and where. This is because the game only gives you a total for each of the two avatars and that’s it. You can’t really collect the same gems multiple times to rack up the totals either. So, you need to master all three modes before even having a hope to get most of the gems needed. Once you beat one mode, you can only sit and complete it again for fun, unfortunately.

Generally speaking, we wound up being pretty disappointed with this effort at Columns. While it does combine the modes into one package, the modes are poorly realized. This is thanks to badly thought out difficult curves and progressions. The most reasonable wound up being vs. mode even though the difficulty jumps part way through. The other modes just had random difficulty all over the map. With a poorly thought out progress tree to boot, it’s hard to enjoy this game after a while.

Graphically, this game is decent. It has some basic effects, though the gems are decently done. Since the colours are all you need to pay attention to, anything else added to them is just gravy. The characters are reasonably animated and the backgrounds are decently drawn. So, the graphics are pretty decent here.

Audio is OK. It can be hard to understand some of the voice samples thanks to the heavy accents characters have. Music is decent enough, though nothing to get too excited over. Finally, sound effects get the job done, but nothing much more than that. So, a fairly average effort here.

Overall, we had higher hopes for this game with vs and marathon modes nicely packaged together into a single game. Unfortunately, the different modes wound up being a bit of a mess. The marathon mode had random speed up and slow down moments. Flash also had random difficulties thrown at the player. Vs mode was decent, though the difficulty does jump part way through. A progress tree is also virtually non-existent. Graphics were decent and sound was OK. Still, this is a bit of a disappointment for us and wound up being a mediocre play.

Furthest point in game: collected 7/24 gems.

Survival: Died on Level 16
Vs.: Won with the female avatar.
Flash: Died on Stage 14

General gameplay: 15/25
Replay value: 6/10
Graphics: 7/10
Audio: 3/5

Overall rating: 62%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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