Born at a time when every company needed their own Tetris-like puzzle game, Columns was Sega's stab at the matching falling blocks genre. Two years after hitting the Genesis, Laser Soft has done a good job at bringing this solid puzzle game to the PC Engine. The gameplay, modes and sound is all intact, though for some strange reason the game doesn't look as good on NEC's 16-bit console. All on all this is a good port of an arcade smash, though 20 years later I'm not sure if that's enough to make this game worth recommending.
Like all Tetris-clones of that era, Columns is extremely easy to describe (but impossible to master). Instead of different shapes made up of four pieces, a Columns piece features a tall rectangle with three colors. Your job is to match at least three colors in a row, be it vertically, horizontally or diagonally. Besides choosing where you want the piece to drop, you can switch through the three colors to set up your color matching. Bonus points are given if you can match more than three colors at once or create a chain of color matches. You do this until you just can't match any more, and then it's game over.
Although the concept is simple, getting good at this puzzler is a true feat. As you would imagine, the longer you play the game the faster the pieces fall from the sky. Most games will only last a few minutes, and even if you get good there comes a point when these little buggers fall so fast that it's impossible to get any work done. From time to time the game will throw you a bone and give you a special piece that will destroy a certain color from the playfield, but there comes a time when even that isn't enough help.
As a puzzle game Columns is a good idea, but the concept feels too limiting by today's standard. That's not to say that you had a lot of freedom in Tetris, but the overall gameplay was more than just rearranging colors. Another problem is that this type of game has been done better in other, similar puzzle games. I would take a version of Puyo Puyo or even Capcom's amazing Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo over Columns. That's not to say that Columns doesn't have some redeeming qualities, but it feels very average when compared to the current crop of puzzlers.
For the most part this game plays and feels exactly like the arcade and Genesis versions, however I can't get over the game's poor visuals. I know this is just a puzzle game and I shouldn't expect the graphics to be top of the line, but this looks more like a port of the 8-bit Master System Columns rather than Sega's gorgeous 16-bit version. Could it be that Laser Soft wasn't up to the challenge of recreating this puzzle favorite?
Columns is one of those annoying simple games that will suck you in for long stretches of time. However, if you have the good sense you'll be able to break free and play one of the better variations on the puzzle game theme. Laser Soft should be commended for pulling off a solid port, even though the graphics are nowhere near ideal. All in all Columns is a very average puzzle game, it's a game I can neither recommend nor tell you to actively avoid it. I suggest sticking with Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo.