Saturday, 11 May 2013

Retro Review

Dr Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine, Sega Megadrive
With the slow but consistent growth of Megadrive cartridges coming back into my life, it was with a super addictive knowing that I loaded Dr. Ivo Robotnik’s (aka Eggman) Mean Bean Steaming Machine into the black hole of joy, fully expecting the next three hours to disappear in his beany dungeon.

As a 16 bit call to arms, it doesn’t get any bigger than this. In a world where beans need help, I was called on to thwart Dr Robotnik and his evil henchbots as innocent beans were rounded up to be hurled into the nasty mean bean steaming machine. This hellish creation would turn the jolly folk of Beanville into devious bot beans rendering them lifeless and at the same time sucking out all the music and fun in the world.

Developed by Compile from Japan and released in 1993, DRMBM is a Puyo game where little beans/Puyo with tiny eyes fall from the top of the screen in pairs and can be moved left, right or rotated clockwise or anti by 90 degrees. The purpose is to create rows/shapes of beans of at least four colours in order for them to disappear and end up as refugee beans on my opponents side of the board acting as blockers and disrupting the plans they had. As a game design, there are similarities to Tetris, Dr Mario and Columns, but the gaming rapture comes from creating bean chains and unloading up to 40 refugee beans onto the other board through a set of carefully planned explosions which bung up your opponent.

The soundtrack and audio design is a splendid sonic glove that fits this classic puzzler so well. With metallic 16 bit rasps combining with pulsing frentic drops and the joyous “yippee” high as I cleared a chain reaction of quatro beans. The intelligent audio design certainly helped quicken my heart as beans stacked high and with just three clear rows remaining, the bpm increases, the pace ramps up and if concentration is not kept then death had a habit of becoming me.
It was during these times, close to my own demise, that my motivation was at its zenith. As I’d look across to see my CPU opponent their face would turn from neutral to an arrogant animation, taunting me and this acted as the ultimate inspiration to try and recover. From the 12 henchbot opponents, before I faced Robotnik, the smirking mug and arched chicken eyebrow of Scratch is the one I saw most and made my blood boil hottest. I felt little frustration in repetitively losing a round against the same foebot (continues were unlimited) because Dr Robotnik treads the fine line between player motivation and exasperation so well.

There is even joy in the details when the beans join together from two to three or form a chain, their eyes burst, stretch or go boss eyed and the little Has Bean (looking strikingly similar to a luma from Super Mario Galaxy) in the middle of the two boards waves and dances with joy as two beany heavyweights go head to head. Alongside Bust-A-Move on the N64 Dr Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine is one the finest puzzling experiences to grace any console within the last 30 years.

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