There have been a lot of puzzle-block games over the years. Tetris started the craze with a simple formula. As technology and art tend to do when something good comes along, the formula was improved in short order.
We will take a look at some puzzle-block games, some known and some less known. Later in another article we will take a look at some more involved games.
Columns was released by SEGA in 1990. Originally developed for the arcade, it was ported to home console systems such as the SEGA Genesis.
Columns is a typical match-three puzzle-block game. Columns does not allow the player to rotate the pieces. Instead columns allows the player to determine the order of the pieces in the group of three as they fall (top, middle, bottom).
The speed at which the blocks descend increases as time goes on. If you are playing on the easiest difficulty you will be shown hints as to where the best spots are to place each block. If you are playing on any difficulty above that then you have a chance of a super block falling. Super blocks remove all copies of a single color from the game screen.
Columns features multiple possible main menu images, which I felt was a nice touch. The music is pleasant, and the color palette is easy on the eyes and fits a theme nicely.
Columns is a bit simplistic otherwise, with just basic displays surrounding the main game area while actively trying to play. The main-menu art is great, and same with some of the animations you find floating around the other in-game menus.
I am unsure how well this fared as an arcade game, but my guess is it acquired less quarters than its contemporaries.
Pokemon Puzzle League 🔗
Pokemon Puzzle League (PPL) is an interesting take on the puzzle-block game. Instead of having the blocks appear at the top, a new row slowly appears at the bottom of the game area.
The player takes control of a cursor that can interact with two blocks (horizontally) at a time. The player then presses a button to switch the places of the blocks. If one of the spaces selected are emptied, then the block and empty space switch places. If an empty space is moved underneath other blocks, those blocks fall down. If a block is moved over a place with no blocks underneath it then that block falls downwards.
PPL also adds in the mechanic of “battles” between Pokemon trainers. When you do a level you have to choose one of your Pokemon to face against your opponent. Your opponent then picks theirs. It is often, it seems, that the opponent will pick a Pokemon that has a type advantage1 against yours if they have one. According to this forum post from 2009 this choice does not impact the actual game:
Just the background and the chain sounds, as well as the color of the blocks you send to your opponent. That’s about it.
Dr. Mario 🔗
Dr. Mario is a match-four game where the player is tasked with placing a “pill” that is two-colored. The play-area is pre-filled with germs of three colors, each capable of being removed if made part of a group of four similar colors.
One of the key characteristics of Dr. Mario is the pre-filled germs. Most games in this category expect the player to manipulate from either within a mass of blocks or on a blank canvas. Dr. Mario mixes this up by having different levels containing different patterns as opposed to only speed or time related game mechanics.
Clone Games 🔗
Spinoffs are a way of life in the gaming industry. When you create a titanic game such as Tetris or Puyo-Puyo you can certainly expect some re-labeled versions coming soon.
Dr. Robotnik’s Incredible Mean Bean Machine 🔗
SEGA, of course, offered us a Sonic re-label of Puyo-Puyo and it is amazing. In this version the “enemies” you face as you progress up the “story” ladder are all either robots or goons of Dr. Robotnik (Eggman).
Each level gets progressively more difficult, as one would expect. Each robot seems to employ a different strategy, which is a great way to show the player that there are different ways to play the game.
I have many fond memories from my childhood with this one. We did not have a SEGA Genesis, but we had the Sonic Mega Collection for the Nintendo Gamecube which included this game.
Kirby’s Avalanche 🔗
Another Puyo-Puyo re-label, but this time it is Nintendo’s turn. Nintendo offers us characters from the Kirby universe to face, with the cutscenes containing banter between Kirby and the “enemy”.
The game plays almost exactly like The Mean Bean Machine, but the “cutscenes” are more fun and tie back better into Kirby “lore”.
In the Pokemon games, certain types have advantages in attacking other types. An example would be that Water Pokemon do extra damage against Fire Pokemon, but receive extra damage from Electric Pokemon. ↩︎