Review: Columns III: Revenge of the Columns (Sega Genesis)

In this review, we hope things get too uplifting in the Sega Genesis game Columns III: Revenge of the Columns. We find out how well this puzzle game plays.

This game was released in 1993. It is the third game in the Columns series. Columns II was only released in Japan, but the original Columns was released in North America. We already reviewed that game and found it to be pretty good. So, we thought we’d try this game to see what it is like.

The game takes on a lot of the characteristics of the original Columns game. You have to match 3 or more gems to clear them. Other gems will fall down. You can cause a cascade effect if the falling gems result in another chain of like coloured gems.

You can occasionally get a special column piece. The difference, however, is the fact that this piece has multiple uses. It’s easy to assume that the only use this piece has is to lower the floor back down a certain amount, but it does have three possible uses. What use it gives you depends on what part is at the bottom. The down arrow (default configuration) lowers the floor from opponent attacks. The square piece, meanwhile, forces all gems of the same colour it touches below to to help lower the stack. The final component is the up arrow. The up arrow attacks the opponent by pushing the floor up.

As you can already tell, this game focuses on two player combat. In fact, combat mode is all this game has to offer. In single player, you get to take on a story mode.

The story is that there is a pyramid that is rumoured to contain treasure. Unfortunately, no one who has tried to retrieve this treasure ever came back. It is your turn to see if you can make it through the dangers of the pyramid to retrieve the treasure.

There are three entrances you can take. There is practice, normal, and hard. Practice allows you to take on a few of the opponents at their easiest. Normal mode allows you to take on almost every opponent in the game, but the difficulty is ramped up from practice mode. Hard mode permits you to take on every opponent in the entire game, but the difficulty is the hardest in the game.

As suggested earlier, you can “attack” your opponent in a match. While B rotates the piece, A will allow you to attack. To attack your opponent in a match, you need to build up some power. You cannot attack your opponent with anything less than 10. The maximum power you can build up to is 30. You gain power by clearing gems. If you cause chain reactions, or clear multiple chains on the field at once, you can gain more power more quickly.

There are three effects you get when you attack. The first effect is that you raise the floor of your opponent. The second effect is that it lowers the floor for yourself if the floor has been raised on you. The third effect is that an attack can break up an opponents piece currently falling. This can be particularly useful if your opponent has a magical gem piece and you don’t want it being used against you.

In addition to this, you can obtain flashing gems. The flashing gems are just like regular gems, only they can cause your opponent to experience an effect. To get a flashing gem, you need to clear out a large number of gems. It’s possible to get one without causing a cascading effect, but the cascading effect is often the most common way players can get it. To activate the magical gem, you need to clear it with at least two other like gems.

The effects on your opponent are varied, but random. You can flip left and right which makes it more confusing for your opponent. Another effect is locking down your opponents ability to rotate their pieces. A visually confusing effect is to flip your opponents screen upside down. The most difficult to overcome effect, in my view, is turning your opponents playing field black and white. This forces the opponent to rely on shapes alone to form combinations.

One thing I found with this game is that it is can be very polarizing. Some players find this game extremely addicting and very enjoyable while others find it boring thanks to a lack of features and dull play. Interestingly enough, I find both sides have merit.

On the proponents side, I do agree that the gameplay can be very addicting. The problem is that, for me, it takes a bit of getting used to first. You have to give the game a chance first, but it does grow on you after a while. The well done difficulty curve really helps this process along.

On the skeptical side of things, I agree that gameplay is rather repetitive. Throughout the entire game, the only things that really change is the graphic of your opponent and what a few of them say depending on the difficulty. As a result, gameplay gets very repetitive as well. I’m not convinced that the game is overly drawn out in any way, but it gets close to it.

I also agree that more features would have helped this game along. Including a single player solo mode would have made this a more interesting game. As it is now, there’s only one mode of play: vs. opponent. As it is, there are already plenty of puzzle games out on the market at this point in time. This includes Yoshi Cookie, Tetris 2, and Dr. Mario to name a few. What these games feature that this game lacks is either an ability to tweak the settings or multiple ways of playing the game. So, in terms of expectations for game features, this game falls far short of others that are already around at the time.

Some of the criticisms I’ve heard about this game include the idea that this game is somehow less “zen-like” and more fast-paced than the previous game. I think this depends on how far in the levels you got in the previous game. If you didn’t make it very far, then the speed is a lot slower than this game. If, however, you managed to get a good distance into the previous game, this game is easily on par, or even slower paced than the original Columns in some parts. So, for me, that criticism doesn’t really hold water to me.

The changes made to this game to make it more interesting does make a lot of sense. The rising and lowering of the floor makes things much more interesting. The multi-use magical gem also works quite well once you figure out how to use it. I really can’t complain about any of the gameplay changes to this game.

Generally speaking, this is one of those games that takes a bit of patient at first. Once you give this game a chance, the more addicting qualities does come through. It’s unfortunate that this game is so stripped down because a lack of single player features does hold this game back a fair bit. The changes made to the gameplay from the original Columns does help a fair bit, though.

The graphics aren’t the greatest in this game. While the characters are well drawn, the visuals become very repetitive very quickly. It would have been great to see variations to the backgrounds as you progress through the game. It doesn’t have to be wildly different, but some sense of progression would have been nice outside of the opponents. The progress screen was also very lacklustre. The menu was decently done and some of the effects are pretty good, but only permits the game to be barely passable.

The audio didn’t fare much better in my view. Throughout the entire game, you get treated to a single track that changes tempo as you get closer to the top. It isn’t until you take on the mummy that the music does change. I would say the boss music is probably the best music in the whole game. This may be in part thanks to me being so tired of the same track over and over again, that even a decent track is a hugely welcome change towards the end. The sound effects are alright, but the repetition makes this game merely passable.

Overall, this is a pretty decent game. It isn’t spectacular in any way shape or form, but if you are looking for a vs. gameplay style puzzle game that is a little different, this is certainly worth playing. You need to give this game a chance if you want to really enjoy it as the learning curve and just getting used to the gameplay in general takes a bit of time. The repetitive gameplay and the stripped down features ends up hurting this game in the long run, unfortunately. The graphics and audio get quit repetitive. The few redeeming qualities are the special effects and decently drawn characters. The boss music is also a redeeming quality as well. An overall decent game, but nothing to get too excited over.

Furthest point in game: Beat the game on Practice and Normal mode. Was defeated by the Mummy on Hard mode.

General gameplay: 18/25
Replay value: 7/10
Graphics: 5/10
Audio: 3/5

Overall rating: 66%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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