Tetris is a game that renders any attempts at introduction utterly moot. Conceptually, it sounds like the kind of throwaway distraction a math teacher would occupy his mind with whilst taking a dump. Even so, a Russian wunderkind achieved the impossible feat of making such a tedious notion criminally engaging. As such, these irritating little shapes have become ubiquitous, even spawning the dastardly Tetris effect (where you close you eyes at the end of a session and phantom tetrominoes continue their relentless cascade in front of your face). It seems like a peculiar nightmare situation to me. An eccentric super villain is painstakingly burying you alive, or attempting to. “I’d have been done hours ago if these damn things would fit together! Curse you, blocks as uselessly misshapen as the Elephant Man’s lumpen penis!”
Therein lies my issue with Tetris. I’ve always found myself completely immune to its uniquely infectious Soviet charms. I’m perhaps being immolated on geeky bonfires worldwide for this, but it’s not my fault. I’ve tried to ingratiate myself with it, but an average game ends in short-lived disaster. Always, a single block will find itself in the perfect location to effectively shit all over my precisely laid plan. Once panic sets in, the result is a wonkily precarious Jenga tower on a double-time march to the top of the screen. Puzzlers became the bane of my gaming life around this point. (That old just one more go idea is lost on me. I suspect it’s a shortened form of If I’m forced to endure just one more go, I may have to crap in someone’s mouth in rage.) This was when I was introduced to the extravagant plagiarization that is Columns, and my fondness for shape-shifting shenanigans was restored.
I first played Columns on the Genesis in the 90s, and it’s been an on-and-off compulsion ever since. The difference here is the now-trusty match three mechanic employed. You heft jewels with three multicoloured sections around, and matching pieces disappear. This is infinitely less awkward than Tetris’s rows, (a concept I’m still convinced Satan pulled out of his ass one day and subjected us all to) and is far more enjoyable as a result. It also features the funky stylings of the magic jewel, or family jewel if you will. This resplendent beacon will remove every piece of the colour you choose to ravage from the play area. This not only provides points-amundo, but serves to assure us that Jesus himself approves of the game. Which sounds like a good thing to me.
But perhaps Jesus isn’t quite the chap for the job. Columns presents the rather standard puzzle game frolics with an oddly classical air throughout. As we can see from the title screen above, Angels play the game. Furthermore, Ancient Greek heroes play the game. I can just picture Hercules, pausing after one of his arduous labours (you know the ones: shoving shit in a barn the size of an aircraft hangar, rolling a boulder up a hill, and other great ways to spend an afternoon) to pathetically shuffle a few colourful bits of crap around. Further, what other game would give you options of background music tracks entitled clotho, lathesis and atropes? Sure, the core mechanic has been pimped out to the point of cliché over the years, but Columns did it with style. More than a hint of pretension too, granted, but largely style. Credit is surely due for that.
‘Celebrate’ 25 years of the Tetris turd right here (if you must):
Article by Chris Littlechild