• Graphics
  • Sound
  • Playability
  • Lastability
FormatCommodore VIC 20
DeveloperCosine Systems
Price£1.99 (excl. P&P;)
ReviewShaun B. and Gordon

Main review

I reckon it to be about a year since I reviewed this game for Micro Mart, and yet finally, Ullyatt the Great, has got around to ViColumn‘s real media release. Not a moment to soon either; people who like using the VIC 20 in the flesh should be considering adding this neat little puzzler to their collection as soon as possible. As a side note, ViColumn is by none other than Jason “T.M.R” Kelk himself, head honcho of this site, so there’ll be no bias here, isn’t that right boss? (Did i forget to post that fiver, then…? – J =-)

It has to be said that if you’re going to create a game on the humble VIC 20, (in a similar fashion to Atari 2600 homebrew games) it should be one worthy of note, and this tribute to Sega’s arcade game Columns is noteworthy indeed. I nearly said “Classic” then, but to be honest, I start this review not being a fan of Columns: I find it to lack the level of skill required for Tetris, and the “addictiveness” that a good version of Tetris has. And I’ll challenge anyone to come up with just one good reason to why Columns is better that Tetris. Just one. I’ll await the onslaught of emails from Sega fans the world over, if they read this text that is.

ViColumn isn’t an exact clone of Sega’s workings. Indeed, Kelk once said to me that he concentrated on how well the game played rather than cloning the original exactly. And for that, he’s come up with something better with more of a focus on playability and proficiency. You see, you can only match each coloured “gem” either horizontally, vertically or both in groups of three or more; there is no way to match them diagonally. This cuts down the amount of luck as you play, giving the player more control over the “well” and his (or her) own destiny in the game and eventual score.

Cronosoft’s second VIC 20 release is commendable of its price tag, and will provide fans of the puzzle genre with hours of entertainment. It’s not quite a Tetris-beater in my opinion, however it’s not something that should be over-looked. There’s elegant programming and a solid fun game mechanic that’ll keep you coming back time and again. Accompanying its colourful graphics is a great musical score from Matt Simmonds, however it does not require any extra RAM, kudos to Cosine Systems for managing this feat. Once again, it’s time to dust off the original bread-bin, grab your trusty joystick and load something that’s worthy of Commodore’s first fun computer. You know that you want to.

Second opinion

Next stop on the brick game genre’s world tour? The VIC 20, of course! Backed up by a powerful, thumping soundtrack, ViColumn is basically a no-frills take on Columns that is both solidly programmed and challenging.

The multicoloured blocks are well defined, and the controls handle flawlessly. The action takes place in a strip down the middle of the screen; its narrowness exaggerated somewhat by large, featureless blue borders on either side. Obviously the limitations of the VIC have played their part here, but the superior looking Strat-O-Gems (a 2005 Columns clone) on the archaic Atari 2600 suggests that more could have been done presentation-wise. To be fair though, the sparse visuals don’t have any negative effect on the gameplay.

Whereas other recent puzzlers such as Laser Blaster and Getris took an old idea and warped it into something else, ViColumn sticks faithfully to the script, but scores above those titles in having a more balanced difficulty level. No one will find the opening exchanges that hard, but it doesn’t take too long to speed up, and even Columns connoisseurs will find themselves pushed later on. However, the decision to place the “next piece” icon at the bottom of the screen away from the play area is an unnecessary handicap.

ViColumn won’t win awards for graphics or innovation, but Cosine have successfully made a classic puzzler work on severely limited hardware. If you’re a VIC 20 gaming nut desperate for a new title, you could do a lot worse than download this.