Columns Review (1991 Sega Game Gear Game)

How close to Tetris can a puzzle game get in terms of form and feel, yet still have an underlying system that’s vastly different? Sega tries to answer that question with Columns, a surprisingly addictive game that both defies and invites comparisons to the queen mother of all puzzle games.

Columns does feel similar to Tetris in many ways. You manipulate groups of three gems, trying to stack them in horizontal, vertical or diagonal groups of three or more. You might be slightly annoyed at first by your inability to turn the gem groups sideways. After all, it would be much easier to avoid having your pile go up to the top of the screen if you could lay them down sideways. Then, you might be annoyed by the way you have to rotate the gems and arrange them; it’s not as intuitive as slipping blocks into empty holes like Tetris.

But after that, you’ll be completely charmed by the game’s unique combo system. If you arrange your gems with skill, you can chain up five or more lines of three gems in one drop. Even if you make no attempt at stacking, chances are you’ll be able to do chains of two or even three. There are only four different gem types to contend with, so the possibility for unintentional chains is quite high. And the more chains you set up, the more you’ll be entranced by Columns’ elegantly simple yet incredibly deep gameplay.

The graphics feel just right for the gameplay. Each of the gems has a different shape and color, but the Game Gear doesn’t differentiate the shapes very well. Luckily, the four colors are not only distinct and vibrant, but also manage to contrast against each other strongly. The gems are set against a black backdrop that works to enhance their coloring. This allows for quick gem identification and makes the game quite easy on the eyes. The large status indicators placed at the side of the screen are also easily readable at a glance.

Columns gives you a choice of three soundtracks. The first is a catchy, minuet-like song that seems like it’s inspired by one of the classic Tetris songs; it’s quite good nonetheless. The second song is ethereal and somewhat eerie; depending on your tastes you’ll either find it relaxing or too odd. The third is pleasant and cheerful, distinctly different from the other two songs but just as good. The three songs are different enough from each other that you will find at least one of them to your liking.

Just as addictive as Tetris, yet completely different in its own way, Columns is sure to please all puzzle fans. Even if you don’t enjoy puzzle gaming, you should give Columns a try. It might change your mind.

Graphics

Clean graphics using an excellent choice of black background against four distinct gem colors.

Sound

Three different but good songs to choose from.

Enjoyment

Highly addictive and fast-paced puzzle gaming, despite its facade of simplicity.

Replay Value

Four gem colors offer infinite variations and possibilities.

Documentation

Average documentation.