Game Review

Columns III: Revenge of Columns (1993)

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“The solution often turns out more beautiful than the puzzle.”
-Richard Dawkins

 
 

SegaMage1 copy“The following is a contributor post by the Hopeful Sega Mage.”
After spending some time playing Columns on the Mega Drive, it’s time to move onto the sequel. Now you’re probably reading the title of this post and wondering if I can count. Don’t worry – I can (just about) count and it’s not a typo.
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Oddly, Columns II: The Voyage Through Time didn’t make it to the Mega Drive. Released in Japanese arcades in August 1990, it’s sole console appearance was on a Columns Sega Ages release on the Sega Saturn. This release was again limited to Japan only and came in 1997, three years after Columns III: Revenge of Columns was released.
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So, what about Columns III: Revenge of Columns? Released in Japan and the US at the tail end of 1993, Columns III: Revenge of Columns wouldn’t see a European release until its release on the Wii’s Virtual Console in 2008. Columns III: Revenge of Columns wasn’t even published in the US by Sega – Vic Tokai were the publishers for Columns III: Revenge of Columns in America. I’m not sure why Sega had seemingly little interest in releasing Columns III: Revenge of Columns outside of Japan. I don’t think it was a Golden Axe III situation, where Sega had no faith in the product’s quality, otherwise I don’t think Columns III: Revenge of Columns would have been released in the US either. Another version of Columns III: Revenge of Columns, due for release on the Game Gear in 1994, was cancelled as well. 1995 saw the release of Super Columns on the Game Gear, so maybe Columns III: Revenge of Columns was dropped in favour of Super Columns?
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I’m interested to play Columns III: Revenge of Columns myself now, to see how it holds up to the original Columns and to try and fathom why it didn’t get an EU release. It does seem strange to not release a sequel to an established franchise….then again, Columns II: The Voyage Through Time never made it either. So, I’m intrigued, is Columns III: Revenge of Columns a hidden gem or a game that deserves obscurity?
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visuals Visuals: 4/10

I’m not a big fan of the art direction used in Columns III: Revenge of Columns. The graphics are very cartoony, in contrast to the original’s more refined look. My problem is, I think graphics with a cartoon design need to be of a very high quality to succeed and I don’t think Columns III: Revenge of Columnss graphics are good enough. I personally think that simpler graphics would have worked better for Columns III: Revenge of Columns as the lack of detail and basic, bright colours actually date the visuals.

It’s a game that looks older than it is. Compared to something like Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine, which came out around the same time, Columns III: Revenge of Columns looks primitive. I think I preferred the design of the original Columns – the simpler look might not be as ambitious, but for a puzzle game, where the draw is the gameplay, it might be better to use a toned down art style that doesn’t make graphics an issue.

I’ll put this one down to personal preference though – Columns III: Revenge of Columns doesn’t have bad graphics, they suit the game and there are no negative effects on the gameplay. I just think the developers have been caught between simple graphics and going for a more striking look.

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audio Audio: 6/10

In game, Columns III: Revenge of Columns has one main tune that plays throughout called “Explorer”. It’s a good tune which adds some urgency to the proceedings, though it does start to wear out its welcome after a while. Final boss tune “Scene of Carnage” is a nice change, however, and I quite like the other little tunes that cover the story updates. Overall though, I think I prefer “Clotho” from Columns – there is a nifty remix of it in Columns III: Revenge of Columns that’s a nice throwback to the original.

Columns‘ sound FX make a return in Columns III: Revenge of Columns, though they sound a bit strange in the less serious looking Columns III: Revenge of Columns. They feel out of place among the cartoon world of Columns III: Revenge of Columns, but I still like the urgency they add to proceedings.

gameplay Gameplay: 8/10

I really enjoyed playing Columns III: Revenge of Columns. While Columns left me wanting something more from the gameplay, Columns III: Revenge of Columns contained the depth I was craving from Columns.

That depth comes in the form of the Crush Bar (a feature introduced in Columns II: The Voyage Through Time), where if you eliminate at least 10 Columns blocks, you can add a row of blocks to the opponent’s screen, giving them less space to play in. If you can eliminate up to 30 Columns blocks, then you can drop three rows on your opponent, causing them some big problems. Dropping the Crush Bar on your opponent also eliminates some of the blocks at the bottom of your own screen, so it can become something of a see-saw battle, trying to cancel out your opponent while making sure your own screen doesn’t get too crowded!

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I liked this strategic element to Columns III: Revenge of Columns. Do you try and eliminate 30 bricks to give your opponent a huge problem or do you just eliminate 10 blocks and keep hitting your foe with little waves of Crushes? I like how the computer opponents all play differently, with the Witch in particular an absolute pain with her constant attacks.

The special attacks are interesting too. Bring up the pause menu and you can select from a menu of defensive tactics. Do you use the Magic Bell to clear all the coloured blocks or do you use the Heavy Weight to crush all the blocks and give yourself more space? You’ll definitely need the Antidote at some point – this stops your playing area being turned upside down when the CPU eliminates the flashing block!

The flashing blocks are another element of strategy in Columns III: Revenge of Columns – do you try and build up multiple chains of blocks to try and summon a flashing block so you can mess with the opponent’s screen? Or, is it better to play defensively and clear as many blocks as you can to avoid getting overwhelmed by your opponent? Columns III: Revenge of Columns presents a ton of strategy that was missing from Columns and that is the one improvement I really wanted.

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narrative Narrative: 3/10

Unlike Columns, Columns III: Revenge of Columns has a story mode where you play against a series of opponents. The story sees you exploring a temple looking for treasure, where you must play against eleven guardians before getting the gold. It’s not much of a story to be honest, but it does add a bit of interest to another wise dry game. The cut scenes are decent enough and I felt satisfied with my journey through Columns III: Revenge of Columns.

That said, there is a bit of inconsistency with the theme of Columns III: Revenge of Columns. The title screen is of a castle and the menu seems very light-hearted, illustrated with chickens… then boom! You go straight into the Egyptian-themed story mode. It’s very inconsistent and it feels like the game has a bit of an identity crisis.

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accessibility Accessibility: 6/10

Like its predecessor, Columns III: Revenge of Columns is very easy to pick up and play. Being bright and colourful helps too – for all my criticisms of the graphics, I imagine Columns III: Revenge of Columns could be quite alluring. It’s not as immediate as Columns, but then it’s got much more depth to its gameplay and I know which one I’d rather have.

One thing Columns III: Revenge of Columns is not is common. The only widespread release of Columns III: Revenge of Columns was via Steam as part of the Sega Genesis collections. It’s the only way to sensibly play Columns III: Revenge of Columns, especially if you’re based in Europe like me!

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replayability Replayability: 8/10

I think this category is Columns III: Revenge of Columns‘ strong point – there is a lot to do. The story mode is quite a challenge, even on medium mode (I really struggled with the last two guardians) and you need to complete the hard mode to get the true ending. Then there are quite a few other game modes to entertain, plus the multiplayer modes. Hell, if you have an American or Japanese Mega Drive and a copy of Columns III: Revenge of Columns, you can hunt down a Team Player four-player adapter and play five-player Columns III: Revenge of Columns

Columns III: Revenge of Columns is a game I can see myself going back to. While I enjoy Columns as a brief diversion between other games, Columns III: Revenge of Columns kept me compelled for hours at a time. I got hooked on the story mode and really enjoyed the different approaches of each guardian. Each level felt distinctive and I enjoyed my battles with each boss.

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uniqueness Uniqueness: 4/10

While Columns III: Revenge of Columns isn’t a particularly unique game, I don’t think you’d mistake it for another puzzle game. I think that, despite its identity crisis, Columns III: Revenge of Columns has enough about it to stand out from the puzzle game crowd. The Crush Bar aspect of the gameplay is not something I’ve come across before and the Egyptian-themed story mode is fairly unique to me. I think that the Match 3 puzzle had been done to death by the early 90s but Columns III: Revenge of Columns isn’t too derivative of other games in the genre.

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mypersonalgrade Personal Grade: 7/10

I think Columns III: Revenge of Columns is a step up from Columns and I was surprised how much I played it while writing this critique. Dare I say it, it’s a game I would go back to after the review, to try and beat the story on hard mode. Normally with these reviews I only play on medium difficulty and don’t go back to the game after the review is published (bar Altered Beast, obviously) but I am looking forward to playing more Columns III: Revenge of Columns.

I’d recommend Columns III: Revenge of Columns – it’s often reduced on Steam and for a few pounds at most, you could do a lot worse. I’d also recommend Columns III: Revenge of Columns over its better known older brother. While I prefer the presentation of the original, I think Columns III: Revenge of Columns appeals to me more as it offers more strategy and longevity. I’d definitely call Columns III: Revenge of Columns a hidden gem – at first I dismissed it, but having given it a chance, it’s really impressed me.

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Aggregated Score: 5.8

 
The Hopeful Sega Mage is a Sega obsessive who shouldn’t be approached by members of the public. However, he can be found on Twitter at @carrythegary and here at The Well-Red Mage, if you wish to discuss Japanese Mega Drive artwork and the greatness of Altered Beast.
 

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