Sega’s answer to Tetris is back once again. The first Columns has already been released on the Virtual Console and Sega never bothered to port the Columns II arcade game to the Megadrive/Genesis, so we swiftly move on to Columns III.
While not terribly innovative in terms of concept, the original Columns should be commended for paving the way for puzzlers focused on exciting combos and chains - in that respect, it was somewhat of a trend setter. Columns III however is much less revolutionary, being more of a versus puzzle game like Puyo Puyo than the classic Tetris. The endless single player mode is now gone forever, which is a crying shame as it proved to be an enjoyable - almost relaxing - experience.
The core gameplay of the original Columns remains, however. Columns of jewels fall from the top of the screen and need shuffling so that you can form colour matches. The aim is to get three or more jewels to match in colour horizontally, vertically or diagonally so that they disappear. With a bit of practice you can line up a chain so more matches can be triggered. This all causes devastation to your human or CPU opponent as good combos can cause crush bars to appear on the bottom of your opponent’s grid pushing their stack nearer the death zone.
The once simple gameplay is complicated with the use of Magic jewels, which can remove all colours from your well or raise your opponent’s crush bar. In addition to this there are also jewels that cause disruption to your opponent when destroyed. These can flip their controls, disable their shuffling or turn their jewels black and white so matches are more difficult to perform.
There are quite a few other nuances to the gameplay which, for the sake of the reader’s sanity, we shall not list in detail. Needless to say the sheer quantity of these gameplay additions does not result in the game being exponentially more fun to play - in fact, quite the opposite is true; the new twists ultimately rob this game of being much fun as there are often too many factors to consider, and you long for the straightforward beauty of the first title.
One feature that somewhat redeems Columns III is the five player versus match option, made possible by the 'Sega Tap' hardware (which allowed more than the standard two controllers to be connected to the console). Nevertheless it is unlikely you will find one friend willing to play this unfortunate sequel with you for very long, let alone four!
You would be much better off buying the original Columns or one of the other puzzlers such as Dr Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine which are also available on the Virtual Console. Columns III is likely to be a bit of a disappointment for anyone willing to take a chance on it.