Like Space Harrier before it, SEGA AGES Columns II is a faithful console port of the arcade version thanks to the consistently high emulation quality of developer M2. All the bells and whistles you expect are here including visual toggles such as screen stretching, enabling scanlines, and plenty of boarder options. Even the worbbly arcade sound effects Sega is known for gets translated nicely here. Scores automatically get uploaded to the online leaderboard upon Game Over and online multiplayer is included. The thing is Columns II was a Japan-only title so this Switch eShop port marks the first time this forgotten gem (pun intended) has made its way to the American market. The most unexpected feature, though, is the inclusion of the original Genesis version of the original Columns.
However, the coolest feature is probably how it takes advantage of the Switch’s hardware when playing in tabletop mode. When playing multiplayer, Player 2’s side of the screen rotates 180 degrees to make face-to-face battles more comfortable. This is the type of commitment M2 stands by that other developers would most likely omit or never even consider.
If you never played Columns before, it was sort of Sega’s response to Nintendo’s runaway success with Tetris. Instead of making lines, Columns has more in common with something like Bejeweled as the player needs to match a stack of three falling gems to make them disappear. Bonuses are rewarded for making lengthier chains and combos. Besides the Infinite mode, Flash Columns has players trying to bust specific gems and Versus Columns pits players against one another. Players can also take advantage of a level select feature and when certain stages are completed and Jewel Case characters become unlocked providing incentive to play well and show off when playing against randoms online. Skull pieces also pop up from time to time and if destroyed, shorten the playing field making it much more difficult to stay alive.
While there is no questioning the quality of emulation and included features, Columns II doesn’t have the same hook as Tetris, Dr. Mario, or even Puyo Puyo. It is a more difficult puzzle game that requires plenty of practice to stay alive for more than a few minute. Since pieces fall vertically in stacks of three, learning how to take advantage of diagonal chains is one the keys to success, something omitted from many other puzzle games. With a higher learning curve and more difficult gameplay, Columns II might not be for everyone but this quality compilation is the easiest and best way for American gamers to experience this forgotten puzzler.
Also Try: Puyo Puyo Tetris (PS4/Switch)
Better Than: the Blastris mini game on the SNES’s Super Scope 6 compilation cart
Play It Instead: Meteos (DS)