26 June 2020

Why SEGA Columns is Better Than Tetris

Why is SEGA Columns better than famous Russian puzzle game Tetris? Because I prefer it. Case closed. Let's break it down. 

The Columns franchise has the sense of being playful and therapeutic, until suddenly it isn't. The first entry is particularly like this. The game exhibits a relaxing Greek theme of slow pillars with simple, pleasing delights of color and sound. The music loops through regal MIDI clips that are well-paced to match the game's garden aesthetics, cold colors, and accessible gameplay. I wish the difficulty increased more linearly as opposed to exponentially, though it does give birth to a nervous burst of excitement and risk. This facet of the game is what most closely matches the appeal of Tetris. It's like driving a stock car on a country road without the risk, and many people crave that sort of rush. In Columns, you chug along at a glacial pace only to suddenly rocket jump to a difficulty that prevents you from even thinking before you can place a block. It's kind of erratic, and any viable strategy you concocted before can be thrown out the window.

This is of course a mild nitpick, that many may even see as a big plus or preference. This drastic leap between the easy and difficult parts of the game are evened more appropriately in the game's sequels. By Columns III, the round is begun at a much quicker disposition. The game makes it less sleep-inducing for returning players, but it is still accessible for new ones as well. The variety is nice as someone who grew up in this age of classics that can be conjured in an instant from the internet. Revenge of Columns' story mode and various performance options make it a go-to addition for friends and for practice. It's very rewarding to advance through the pyramid, but the save feature is outdated as a game that's 27 years old. This is pretty forgivable in my eyes. This game has the most fun soundtrack in my opinion, and it is a great time-waster to decompress before bed or after a hard day at the office. The power-ups are kind of hit or miss. The game becomes a bit busier, and the weapons you obtain do more to distract you with little increase in excitement I feel. Again, just a preference. Columns II on the other hand is a mostly forgettable game that never gained much success in North America. 

Yeah but fuck this asshole

Super Columns, the fourth and final main installment released for the SEGA Game Gear in 1995, bringing the series life span to an end at a brief 6 year run at competition with Tetris. Before, after, and during the development of columns media, Tetris has seen at least 80 official releases. The game's plot revolves around stopping a Phoenician man named Surhand from wielding a magical amulet of power by beating him and his cronies in a round of Columns. Their caricature is depicted during the game flapping about. It seems vaguely racist. Super Columns is reminiscent of another Tetris clone, Dr. Mario. The problem being primarily that Super Columns was about five years too late for anyone to care. I admittedly grew up with no connection to the Super Mario media empire, so I don't give it the time of day. Fax me or page me if you think I should try it. 

The strength of Tetris is one of the oldest criteria for judging a video game's playability: it is easy to pick up, but difficult to master. Its gameplay is addicting, even trance-like. However, the franchise has done very little to innovate since its inception many decades ago. The exception being Tetris 99, which is dope as hell. If you could port the same tired game with little preparation to have it instantly translate to financial success, why wouldn't you? Real competition to the game died out at least twenty years ago. The franchise could probably run on its brand recognition alone for many more years to come. It is that iconic, no matter how stale it becomes. Tetris' ownership and distribution tree is also just plain confusing. Game creator Alexey Pajitnov couldn't even collect royalties off of it until the 1990s. Other high points for Tetris:

1. Tetris pieces are called tetriminos, which is really cute.
2. The Tetris song slaps my ass. It's like I died and went to Soviet disco heaven.

Yes, the Columns franchise began as a shameless attempt to get in on the market sensation that Tetris pioneered, but who cares as long as it's fun, right? Goodnight, gameboys. Check it out in the SEGA Mega Drive Collection.

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