Monday, June 1, 2009

Review - SEGA Columns Deluxe (iPhone/iPod Touch)

Before beginning my review, I wanted to notify readers of the loss of a classic Dreamcast website: PlanetDreamcast is no more. An affiliate of IGN, PlanetDreamcast was my go-to website for reviews, news and recommendations (viewed via the Dreamcast browser, of course). Even in the final months, the site served me in helping to decide which games were worth bidding on. A recent visit redirected me to Panicked, I hopped into's wayback machine and was relieved to find that the site still exists... albeit in an archived form. Thankfully, all pages are intact and all images still appear. Relive a slice of the Dreamcast era and pay a visit.

REVIEW - Sega's Columns Deluxe for the iPhone and iPod touch

Released in 2008 at the price of $5, Columns Deluxe was one of two Sega Mobile games released that year (the other being Super Monkey Ball). Columns Deluxe was touted as a bargain combo package, including both Puyo Pop and Columns. I assume that as Columns is much more popular in the West, Puyo Pop was not given mention in the title. Still, I'd prefer Sega Puzzles Deluxe or Columns Puyo Deluxe as it more accuratly tells the buyer that they're getting more than one game.

As you start the app, you're treated to the classic blue SEGA logo, always a treat to see. What follows is the Columns Deluxe intro screen (seen above) followed by main menu. A flick to the right or left of the screen cycles through Puyo Pop and Columns and three other options: Settings, Help or About. If you're aggrivated by the Jigglypuff-like melody that accompanys the menu, you should quickly select settings > sound:off. Sound quality is not this game's strong suit. Don't expect even Genesis quality riffs, no awesome Mean Bean/Puyo Puyo tunes here. Thankfully, when you turn off the sound, you can listen to anything in your iTunes library. I personally enjoy Chu Chu Rocket or NiGHTS tunes.

Columns plays much like Tetris, with all pieces being three unit high stacks that feature a variety of colored gems. Matching three or more gems of the same kind clears the gems and earns you points. Columns features two modes: Endless (aka freeplay) and Vs CPU. You'll notice there is no 2 player mode. This is understandable as the iPhone is too small for two players to share a screen, though an upgrade with wi-fi play would have been welcomed. Vs CPU provides a 2 player challange against the computer and seems to be on par with the AI of previous Columns incarnations. A nice feature of Vs CPU is that if you quit mid-game, your place will be saved for the next time you play. Endless, my preferred mode, is exactly what it's called. A nearly endless session of Columns with three difficulty settings, perfect for passing time.

Like Columns, Puyo Pop plays similarly to Tetris. Pieces of two puyos (or beans, as I sometimes call them) fall in one or two color pairs. The amount of puyo colors depends on the difficulty setting. Match three or more colors and those puyos clear and earn you points. Puyo Pop features two modes: Endless and Single. Both modes play similarly to the Endless and Vs CPU of Columns.

Control is presented in two forms: touch or accelerometer. Both have their benefits and problems. Touch allows the player to drag falling pieces left, right and down. Tapping the screen shuffles the gems in the falling stack. This is my preferred method, but it takes a careful finger to make accurate moves. The pieces move robotically, asking the player to use quick finger motions for small left/right movements. Too quick of a sweep will sometimes register as a tap, inadvertantly causing the gems to shuffle. While not perfect, with practice a player can work past the problems and play a solid game. The accelerometer mode requires the player to tilt their iPhone left, right or down to move the falling pieces. Unfortunatly, there is no accelerometer adjustment screen, so it takes time figuring out how slight of a tilt will move a piece one unit to the left. Tapping remains as the method in shuffling gems.

Graphics are a mixed bag. While the pixel resolution is better than the Genesis, and on par with the Saturn, it could've been much better on the iPhone. Clearly Sega didn't use the hardware to it's full potential. Gem and puyo animation is decent, though not as fluid as Columns and Puyo's Genesis incarnations.

Overall, Columns Deluxe could have MUCH better. But for what it is, it's a great combo package of two Sega classics. At the price of $5 I could only reccomend it to Sega fans, as there are much better puzzle games on the iPhone (Aurora Feint comes to mind). But as of this review, Columns Deluxe has been reduced to $1.99 [buy now], leading me to reccomend this game to both Sega fans and puzzle game fans. It's not perfect, but for the price you get a lot.

The Nomad rates
Columns Deluxe:

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