Review: Sega Ages: Columns II keeps the pressure on players
Each console has its own sort of puzzle series connected to them. When someone thinks of a Nintendo system, Picross or Tetris could come to mind. After all, both have made their home there for years. With Sega, another sort was its identifying IP: Columns. Until the Nintendo Switch came along, the worldwide library has been rather incomplete. Columns II never appeared outside of Japan. With Sega Ages: Columns II, people’s library is finally complete.
Columns II was designed first and foremost as an arcade game, and it shows. Where the original was more about building combos up for as long as possible and spending an extended period of time playing, the sequel is fighting against you and trying to end your sessions as quickly as possible. Its default mode, Flash Columns, is about trying to reach the flashing objects and eliminate them from the field. You can only move onto the next stage if you manage to match them with corresponding items and clear them. (As an added incentive, a Jewel Case unlocks different Sega characters if you clear sets of stages.) However, Skulls will periodically pop up while playing and, if you clear one, the lines will all move up one row closer to the top.
While creating combos could still be a priority, Columns II’s Flash is a more anxiety-inducing experience where efficiently and quickly clearing lines is necessary to survive and win.
While creating combos could still be a priority, Columns II’s Flash Columns is a more anxiety-inducing experience where efficiently and quickly clearing lines is necessary to survive and win. Worrying about scores isn’t as much of a focus. Neither is clearing the screen entirely. It becomes about digging to the flashing items and removing them, while hopefully not raising the height to an unreasonable level. It is a mode where, frankly, even seasoned Columns players might find themselves using multiple continues to get by, all due to the luck of the draw when the game doles out parts.
This move toward brevity is present in Columns II’s Versus mode as well. Here, two people face off, each matching items. Each player starts with a blank slate and attempts to make combos. If you manage to pull some off, the playing field of your opponent will gradually inch upward, cutting down the amount of room they have to maneuver. When one person’s collection of items in the well is overflowing, they lose. Since even clearing a single group of three (or more) items of the same color will cause the bottom of the screen to inch up, once again the pressure is on. The game becomes more about how swiftly you can speed through Columns II, rather than thoughtfully plotting.
The change is abrupt and, to be frank, some might not appreciate or approve of it. Especially since Columns II will be a challenge even on its easiest difficulty level. (You can change the difficulty, as well as adjust the appearance to add scanlines, screen fill options and smoothing, in options.) Fortunately, Sega Ages: Columns II is a more comprehensive collection. Rather than only bringing the base version of the game to a wider audience for the first time, it includes means to more quickly get through things and more thoughtful alternatives. The base game has options like Stage Select, to choose where you start, and Skull Smash, which eliminates the pesky skulls. Infinite Jewels is the Columns II endless mode. There is even the original Columns in here. If the “gotta go fast” approach of Columns II’s original game doesn’t suit you, this version has alternatives that change the approach and pace.
In some ways, Columns II is even accessible than the original game. In the first and second versions, people match colored gems. However, each gem also has its own shape, so people who might be colorblind could still make matches. Instead of just having colored gems, different levels in Columns II each have their own motifs. The gems are there, but there are also things like fossils, mechanical bits and underwater creatures. It adds a little variation, while also providing even more distinct shapes for people to identify. However, the flip side is that when the skulls show up, that accessibility flies right out the window. The skulls flash in the color of the gems needed to make them disappear. If someone who is colorblind plays any mode where a skull shows up, they could have an issue determining the color, making the experience less fun for them.
If the “gotta go fast” approach of Columns II’s original game doesn’t suit you, this version has alternatives that change the approach and pace.
Columns II is one of those situations where certain people will value and want it. This is a game that people have never seen outside of Japan before, and easy accessibility is a bonus. It also handles the Columns formula a bit differently, since the goal is to dig out the trouble blocks as swiftly as possible, before players get overwhelmed. The versus mode also increases the pressure, due to space constantly decreasing. But, the Sega Ages: Columns II version does also temper the drastic differences by giving people the original Columns and an endless version of Columns II to enjoy. People who want puzzle games that aren’t as much about the luck of the draw, when it comes to pieces, and handle pressure in a better way may not be as enthused, but collectors and Sega fans will appreciate a chance to experience this bit of history.
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