Guilty Party – Retro Redress

Crime – never playing Columns for more than ten minutes at a time.

Redress – Spend an hour playing Columns

Ah Columns…of all the games on the (enormous) Redress list, Columns is one I tend to forget about. See, I like Columns and do play it a fair bit…but only for five, ten minutes at a time. I always treat Columns as a ‘starter’ or a warm up for other games I own. I take Columns for granted – it’s always happy for me to halfheartedly play it for ten minutes, then move on to something more ‘exciting’. Columns is that person who doesn’t complain, goes with the flow and always appreciates my fleeting attention. Can you imagine Breath of The Wild doing that? Hell, Animal Crossing would shout at you for treating it like that!

Well, I’m going to change that. Today I’m going to spoil Columns. I’ve dedicated an hour to just playing Columns. No distractions, no plans to play any other games…I’m giving Columns some special time. I was going to light some candles too, but I’m prone to falling asleep on my couch at night…I don’t want the headline ‘Man burned to death playing Columns’’ to be my epitaph…

So I’m ready to go…I’ve set my phone’s stopwatch for 60 minutes, I’ve emptied all thoughts from my head (which didn’t take long) and got some water so I don’t dehydrate. I’m ready to do this. Columns is ready too, for what is starting to feel like a date….

1

I really like the general vibe of Columns; the title screen and music relax me and I think that is crucial for a puzzle game. I think you need to be relaxed to get into a puzzle game, to get your head in the right mindset to concentrate. The music is a big part of that mindset and I like my puzzle games to have music that puts me in the mindset for something as sophisticated as a game of chess. Well, expect Dr Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine. However, even Mean Bean Machine has a tune with great rhythm though, a tune that gets you into the groove of placing beans and matching colours, it’s-

-sorry, I’ve been distracted from Columns. See, it’s not intentional, I just find that Columns doesn’t hold my attention. Maybe, for all it’s laid back presentation, Columns needs something to appeal to me, something that will keep me interested in the game….I’m doing it again. Let’s press the stopwatch and play…

2

I start at Level 0 and am surprised at how fast the action has picked up by Level 3. When I’m concentrating on Columns and giving it my full attention, it’s actually quite intense. I’m blown out by Level 7, in 3:20. Looking at the difficulty level on the menu, the difficulty level is set to Medium. I decide to set the difficulty level down to Easiest, just while I get the hang of the game. However, I’m still shellshocked from my first go – I’m stunned by the speed of the game and the computer has defeated me by 9:36. I simply fall apart once the speed picks up. I’m enjoying the action though – I never realised how addictive yet tough Columns could be. I’ve realised that I’ve never really thought about the scores or levels before, I’ve just played until I’ve lost, then moved on to another game. That is a serious mistake on my part – the scoring is a big part of puzzle games, it’s how you measure your level of skill. It would be like playing FIFA, but not following the result of the match. If you play it like that, why bother?

4

Right, it’s on now. I’m getting into Columns…which, truthfully, isn’t a sentence I ever thought I would type. I battle to a high score of 20,422 on Level 6 at 17:35, which I’m happy with. I’m over a quarter of the way into my special time with Columns and I can see myself improving. Dare I say it, the game seems to be enjoying itself too. I’d forgotten how good the ingame music is, it really reminds me of the classic 90’s Mega Drive feel. Maybe I’ve played Columns more than I know, because the tune feels ingrained in my head and feels very familiar, yet I wouldn’t have chosen it as one of my Mega Drive musical highlights.

However, by 24:36, I’m getting frustrated…I can’t get past Level 4 and I’ve realised that I can’t deal with coloured squares dropping down a screen quickly. I’m getting the hang of the scoring (i.e. Chain Reactions, moving the blocks quicker for more points) but any time my concentration slips, Columns punishes me. My concentration slips frequently, like a toddler running down an icy hill, so you can see how this is a problem for me.3

29:27…my earlier high score from earlier is looking like a complete fluke now. I need a word that will reset my concentration. Let’s use ‘Columns’. Like Lou Ferrino in ‘Pumping Iron’, when he tried to motivate himself for Mr Olympia by screaming ‘Arnold’ during training, I’m going to shout ‘Columns’ every time I make a mistake. Basically, I’m going to shout Columns every ten seconds.

5

Let’s go again….I hit the stopwatch and begin my new strategy. Saying Columns to myself every time I lose focus does help a bit, but the furthest I can get is to Level 5 and around 11,000 points. At 34:47, I’m defeated again, but determined to get to beat my previous high score before the hour is up. At 41;10, I’m out at Level 5 again, which shows some consistency. I’m running out of time to beat my best score though. I need to focus. Columns!

6

49.37 and I’m back at the tutorial screen again, after a couple of poor attempts that end at Level 3. What started as an apologetic gesture has now turned into a fierce challenge. I’ve got ten minutes left to prove I’ve made some progress with Columns. I feel I am getting better at the game, I’m now looking at the next set of Columns to see where to place them and trying to put them down as quickly as possible. However, I keep making stupid mistakes and Columns punishes those mistakes. Perhaps the game is just punishing me for years of neglect. I’m starting to think I deserve it. COLUMNS!!!

7

Another dreadful attempt leaves me defeated at 54.58. I’ve got one last attempt to prove myself to Columns; that I have taken something in over the course of the past hour. I’ve decided this is my last go and that I’m going to finish on a high. This feeling is backed up by the fact I’m pausing the game to take screenshot pictures now – I can’t afford any slip ups if I’m to beat my high score. I’m actually feeling pretty tense. I know that the aim of the redress isn’t to beat a high score, but the fact I can’t beat the high score is bugging me.

I really try my best and up to Level 4, I’m doing pretty well. Then Level 5 hits and I get bombarded by Columns. I find the speed too intense and within a minute, I’m defeated. The stopwatch is past the hour mark, so it’s time to bid farewell to Columns. For once, I’m actually sad to be turning Columns off…I whisper a sad, final ‘Columns!’ and shut her down.

Verdict – I’m glad I carried out this redress. I may be hopeless at Columns, but I had a lot of fun playing it and trying to beat my score. That might sound like an obvious thing to do, but I had never seen Columns as worth playing. I always treated Columns as a throwaway, something to be put on to fill five minutes or as a warm up to another game I wanted to play. I won’t be doing that again – from now on, Columns will be treated as a game to be played in it’s own right. I’m going to keep trying to see if I can beat my score.