Welcome once again to the Retro Review, the column that takes your childhood memories and transforms them into nightmares.
Today, we’re going to take a look at Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine, which was released on the Sega Mega Drive (Genesis), Master System, and Game Gear. It was a curious oddity, being an import of an obscure Japanese puzzle game, as well as featuring a curious tie-in with a certain terrible (yet adorable) kids cartoon series, but despite this, the game is utterly wonderful, especially when played with others.
The origins of this game start back with the 1991 release of Puyo Puyo in Japan. A column based puzzle game, Puyo Puyo requires players to align four or more Puyo’s of the same colour together to eliminate them. By stacking them in certain ways you can create combos or chains, where Puyo’s of different colours are eliminated one after another as they fall. The larger the combo’s you can create, the more duff or colourless Puyo’s you can drop into your opponents column. The aim of the game is to stay alive until the other person’s column is completely full.
It’s a bit tricky to explain, so here’s a video of the game tutorial, which will briefly show you how this works;
It was immensely popular in Japan, but, being very much tuned in for that audience, it was unlikely to catch on in the western world. The main character was an anime girl who went around with a small starfish named Carbuncle, fighting Sailor Moon style enemies, like fish with arms and legs, and a frog that’s sat inside of a rice bowl instead of having legs, that uses a leaf as an axe to intimidate his foes. This crazy shit just wasn’t going to fly with western audiences in the early 90′s. These days it’s much more common, and recent Puyo Puyo series games have been released in the west essentially unmodified.
But Sega needed a way to make this game more friendly to the western market, and they turned to one hell of a strange source.
Adventures of Sonic The Hedgehog was a batshit insane Saturday morning cartoon show. It featured the exploits of Sonic & Tails as they tried to save the planet Mobius from the evil plots of Doctor Ivo Robotnik, who is aided by his incompetent ‘Super Sonic Search and Smash Squad’, Scratch, a cookoo chicken robot, Grounder, who is essentially Barney from The Flintstones on tank tracks, and Coconuts, who is an unfortunate monkey robot, who often just ends up mopping up the floor. This cartoon was just, crazy. It was badly animated, badly written, starred Jaleel White, AKA TV’s Urkel, in the starring role, and, well, again, it’s just hard to describe. Press play on this little hum-dinger for me, and you’ll get the picture.
So, yeah, this is the level we’re working on here. There was a second Sonic The Hedgehog cartoon, now known as SatAM, which was far more popular. Why they didn’t use that show as the basis of this license of a license, I don’t know. Sonic wasn’t the only franchise to become involved with Puyo Puyo, however. The game was also released on Nintendo as Kirby’s Avalanche, and it even got a Windows 3.1 and Macintosh release under the title ‘Qwirks’
The game itself, however, is another story. The gameplay is just wonderful. It’s a game of speed and skill which really comes alive when played against another human player. If Tetris was solitaire, then this is poker. They’re both card games, but nothing alike. The single player mode in this game is certainly serviceable, and the difficulty levels can certainly prove challenging, but this isn’t the strength of this game.
I will always have fond memories of playing this game for hours and hours with my brother, a genuine contest of who would win. Best of 20′s, best of 50′s, sometimes it would go on all night. And that’s why I think this game is so fantastic, it’s just addictive puzzle game action that’s fast paced and awesome to play with friends.
Tetris was never really something that held my attention for long periods, and neither was solitaire. I think the fact this game was designed for two players really is what makes it so special.
Puyo Puyo lives on to this day. When the original developer, Compile, who made a lot of 3rd party software for Sega, including some Sonic compilations and titles, went out of business, Sonic Team took over the rights. Most recently, a Puyo Puyo Tetris game has been released. I’ve not tried it yet, but I may check it out for a video soon. It’ll be interesting to see what the differences and similarities are there.
So all in all, I would certainly recommend a trip to your local flea market to download a rom of this in person.
Danny’s Retro Rating: