Genre: Puzzle Developer: Wow Entertainment Publisher: THQ Players: 1-2 Released: 2001
The Columns series was one of Sega’s most loved franchises during its 8 and 16-bit heyday, and the series was probably the most popular alternative to Tetris at the time. The Columns series received installments on the Sega Master System, the Game Gear, the Genesis/Mega Drive and even the arcades. While I’ll always prefer Tetris, I still can’t deny the innovation Sega put into this game, and Sega’s innovation caused the game to be ripped off and borrowed a hundred times over with other similar games. You’d think that with the steady popularity of the franchise Sega would’ve been ready to bring new installments to the series to its Saturn console and onward, but the series seemed to all but disappear, aside from showing up in compilations.
Columns wouldn’t make a proper return until 2002 on the Game Boy Advance a year after Sega bowed out of the hardware business. You’re all probably thinking that Columns Crown marks the series’ triumphant return to glory but the answer is NO! Is the game any good? Yes and No. Sega handed over development of the game to Wow Entertainment, (House of the Dead 2, Sega Marine Fishing, Sega GT Online). However, instead of the classic and memorable middle eastern themes of the original, they gave the game an anime based background with gratingly childish and immature settings and plot. Princess Dazzle asks a few friends to go out and find the stolen jewels and to return them to the Columns Crown; once they’ve all been returned she can become the princess. Her friends, Jade and Ruby, set out to recover the jewels by playing rounds of Columns. Once you get to the last round they discover that Princess Dazzle’s Cousin, Princess Pinch, has stolen the jewels in order to become princess herself. I didn’t make any of this stuff up; it’s all in the game and that’s just a sample of how painfully stupid the plot is here. To sum it up, this game would be much more highly rated in my book if they didn’t make the plot so immature and stuck with the original theme made popular on the Genesis.
The game play basically takes the modes from each of the original Columns games and wraps them all up in one package here. There’s single-player endless mode, multi-player versus, CPU versus, and Flash Columns. Each of the different modes has to be played many times over in order to obtain all twenty-four of the jewels. The jewels act as your power-ups this time around and are what gives this version its needed boost of originality. You start with only a few jewels, and when you start a round versus the CPU or a human you can choose up to five jewels and put them in any order you’d like. You can repeat them as well. Each one requires a certain number of jewels to be cleared before they fall. If you clear that jewel, you’ll receive that specific power-up or give the opponent a hindering affect such as the pieces’ height or them not being to rotate their pieces for a few seconds. Some of the better power-ups take a lot more jewels to be able to use and the key to being able to beat many of the opponents is finding the right placement or order to receive the jewels in, as just trying to outplay the CPU will seldom work since the CPU generally starts with several more power-ups than you do.
When your not playing the versus mode the endless mode is a nice alternative and fun just to see how long you can last and to see how high of a rank you can obtain. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Flash Columns, it’s a mode where it gives you a time limit and a specific piece at the bottom of the well that has to be cleared. I unfortunately found the Flash Columns mode to be way to slow and frustrating though, as the timer is pretty strict, and I found that trying to figure out how to solve the puzzles in that time limit was not for me. I’m not really calling it a negative point at all, but it’s just not my cup of tea.
The graphics and visuals are unfortunately killed by the immaturity of the game. The colors are very bright and vivid, and there are a lot of backgrounds and variety to look at, but it’s just overbearing and too much. Everything technically works graphically, but this game would’ve fared much better if it just stuck with the middle eastern themes like it should have. Thankfully, the music is really good here. Many of the tunes are very memorable and very close in quality to the tunes found in the Genesis/Mega Drive games, and some are even better. The tune that plays when you are playing at the very advanced endless mode levels is especially memorable. The sound effects are about what they are expected to be, and sound like they should for a puzzle game, so no complaints there.
Like I said earlier, Columns Crown is not quite the series’ triumphant return, but it’s Columns’ return nonetheless. I’ve never obtained all of the jewels nor do I ever care to as the game just isn’t fun to play for that long. Even with the added gameplay features using the jewels as power-ups, the game still doesn’t feel that original or fresh enough to stand out. That’s not to say that it’s not fun, because it is but only for short gaming sessions or possibly a visit to the oval office. Personally, I found it to be tedious when I played it much longer. Finding a second player to join in with you will extend the enjoyment quite a bit, but finding said person may unfortunately not be the easiest task any more. That being said, if you can find this game for a few bucks it’s probably worth grabbing, but it’s really not worth much more effort in tracking it down as there are a lot better games for the Game Boy Advance or any other portable system for that matter.