Columns: Sega’s Colourful Game Gear Rival to Tetris

Sega's Columns on the Game Gear
Puzzles.

Here’s a vibrant puzzle game that dared to take on the mighty Tetris. It lost, but still has a special place in our cold, dark, bleak souls.

A History of Columns on Sega’s Consoles

Jay Geertsen created the puzzle game in 1989. Initially, it ran across computer platforms such as the Atari ST.

But then Sega snapped up the rights for its Game Gear handheld console, which launched in late 1990 in Japan. Then it went to release in the western markets across 1991.

It’s a tile matching puzzle game and was, pretty obviously, Sega’s attempt to win market favour over the Game Boy’s smash hit Tetris.

Now we love the Mega Drive and Sega, but in the early 1990s its creative efforts often came across as a desperate attempt to be cooler than Nintendo. Or to just ape whatever its rival was doing.

This was rather than follow a unique creative path, which it ended up doing later with the ambitious (if flawed) Dreamcast in 1999.

But back in 1990, it entered the handheld console market with the Game Gear in an attempt to get market space alongside the Game Boy.

This meant it needed a game to take on Tetris, so Sega went with the catchily titled Columns. And rolled it out across the Game Gear, Sega Master System, and Mega Drive/Genesis.

As a game, you line up the matching colours and when you do, they disappear on you.

So the idea is to keep wiping out the tiles, wrack up a high score, and avoid maxing out at the top of the screen. Here’s the Mega Drive version.

The situation was a bit different for the handheld version.

The big deal with the Game Gear was this—it was in colour. Compared to the Game Boy’s fuzzy beige and green looks, this was a remarkable step forward.

What held the handheld console back was its price, the small screen, and how it burned through batteries like a drunkard.

So the Game Gear ended up being popular, but not coming close to the original Game Boy’s staggering success (it only ended its market run in 2003, 14 years after launch—astonishing in video game land).

This isn’t to detract away from Columns as it’s a fun game. We remember digging on our mate Guy’s copy when we visited him in Northumberland around 1994/1995.

The sharp colours across the console’s screen were quite intoxicating. And the game does what any great puzzle title should—draw you in and get you addicted.

But Column’s big issue? It just can’t match up to the genius of Alexey Pajitnov’s 1984 creation. Tetris is perfect.

However, Column’s puzzle-based popularity continued on into the early 2000s with ports to the PS2, PS3, Xbox 360, and a release on the Nintendo Wii eShop.

So it’s well worth digging up if you fancy a classic puzzle title with lots of vibrant fun and games.

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