?????????????????????????????????Spoiler Alert, Maybe????????????????????????????????
Lights flash and steam erupts from brightly coloured, cartoon-like machines. Small, round creatures sit on moving conveyer belts, which feeds them into the machines. Each creature waits while the machines transforms them into miniature robots.
Nearby, Dr Robotnik addresses two robotic minions. One minion resembles a chicken standing on two legs, while another is a smaller robot with drills in place of a nose and hands and caterpillar tracks in place of feet. “Witness my dream to rid Mobius of music and fun forever.” he gloats, waving a pointed finger for effect, “My latest invention, the mean bean-steaming machine will not only dispose of those fun-loving jolly beans of Beanville but turn them into robot slaves to serve my evil purposes. ”
“Robots. Bring me those beans.” Dr Robotnik commands.
Each of Dr Robotnik’s minions are defeated until the villain is beaten.
The game ends with a mass of joyful beans celebrating while the machine explodes.
I think that is the story for the game, I am not actually sure.
This is a review of the game available as an extra feature on the Sonic Adventure DX game as, unfortunately, I have not played this version of the game on the Game Gear itself.
I, personally, have been slightly fascinated by this game. The title seems to suggest that Dr Robotnik was the main character and I was interested by what “Mean Bean Machine” could refer to.
At the time this game was released, there were quite a few games created that were based on an idea similar to the Tetris game (having to prevent falling blocks from filling a screen by making them disappear). I have been informed these games are called puyo puyo. Some of the games were independent titles (such as Baku Baku Animal), while some seemed to be part of a franchise (eg. Dr Mario). This game seems to be a version of the puzzle using the Sonic series.
The story for the game seems to be irrelevant, the game consists of the player fighting against a range of enemies, which become more difficult as the game progresses, until they defeat Dr Robotnik. There are no animated sequences in the game, which consists of a series of combative Tetris-like puzzles, and only a slight resemblance of a story (somehow, making the beans disappear frees them from Dr Robotnik’s clutches). I thought the lack of a plot is probably due to the fact that the game is intended to be an entertaining game, rather than an in-depth story (a more cynical explanation is that the game was released to exploit a fashion for similar games and was made with little thought).
The gameplay is very similar to the Tetris game. Interestingly, while there has been a large number of games based on the gameplay of Tetris, each game seems to present with an unique aspect. In this game, beans fall from the sky in pairs (like the miscellaneous objects in Tetris) into a space, except the beans can be one of four colours (green, red, yellow or pink). If four or more beans of the same colour are in alignment, the beans disappear. The alignment can consist of rows, columns or a mixture (eg. three beans in a row with one on top). Like in Tetris, if the mountain of beans builds up to the top of the space, the player loses. In this game, however, the player is competing against a computer-controlled player and the aim is too keep the pile of beans as low as possible before the opponents space is overwhealmed by beans. Two buttons are used to rotate the pairs of beans either clockwise or anti-clockwise.
Another addition to the format was the use of “blocker” beans. These beans, which were black with a white outline, function by building up the pile and blocking groups of beans forming. These beans were removed if the beans adjacent to them disappear as part of a group of four. I am not sure the precise mechanisms that make them appear, but it seems that if one player makes beans disappear, these “blocker” beans will fall into the other player’s space. Seemingly, the amount of “blocker” beans added to the space changes, sometimes a few will appear, sometimes a lot will.
I felt this game to be quite difficult, like many Sonic games released on the Game Gear. As the player progresses through the stages, the game becomes more difficult by increasing the speed at which the beans fall. I found an interesting effect occurred. With the high speed, I was not able to plan a strategy and needed to develop quick reflexes (and to be very lucky) to position the beans as effectively as possible. This meant I was highly focussed on the dropping beans, with little consideration on the arrangement of the beans within the structure or the progress of the computer opponent. I felt myself become more involved in the game and more surprised as the game developed. I remembered feeling anxious as the pile of beans reached the top of the space, the sneering portrait of the enemy adding to the tension, then sudden relief as huge blocks unexpectantly vanished from the pile after shifting forces caused groups of beans to form. As the pile rose again, I felt fear as I realised that my efforts were not decreasing the height of the structure and each bean was helping the pile reach the top of the space, followed by confusion as all the beans vanished from view yet there still being some space left before defeat, followed by happiness as I realised that the opponent had actually been less successful and I had won by an extremely narrow margin. It was interesting to feel so many emotions from such a simple game.
The designs used in the game were interesting. I found this game to be one of the most vibrantly coloured Sonic games I have experienced, the background of the space is a black block, while the beans are brightly coloured greens, yellows, reds and pinks. Each player’s score is displayed in white lettering, with pink outline, above each space and the next beans in the sequence are shown underneath white lettering with a bright blue outline. For the first 8 stages, the background resembles a wall of emerald green stones. In later levels, the background seems to be decorated with parts from a machine.
The character designs differ to other Sonic games. Instead of using a Dr Robotnik similar to other games, the Dr Robotnik used in this game resembles the character from the Sonic animated series. The enemies do not appear in other Sonic games and I remember two of them being henchmen in the animated series. Each enemy is portrayed in a small portrait between the two spaces and their expressions change depending on the progress of the game: fixed expression when either player could win, keen joy when the human player is failing, celebration after winning, fearful desperation when their pile is nearing the top and defeated looks after losing.
The music for the game is quite strange. It is slow and ranges from tinny thumping to high-pitch whistling, which does not seem to fit with the tense gameplay. The music is also quite repetitive.
I have observed that many of the Sonic games available on the Game Gear use some bizarre aspects. One of the most strangest parts of this game seems to be the credit sequence. Following the end of the game, the background turns dark blue and the credits scroll upwards in bright green and bright red lettering. Weirdly, the names of the staff appear to resemble nicknames, rather than actual names, such as “KAZU&KOZU” credited as Planner, “E.D.A” listed as a Programmer and “7LY BIG KING” and “AAA”return among the Designers. I am not sure what the reason for this is, whether they are actual names, mistranslations, a joke to use nicknames or the staff genuinely did not want to be associated with the game.
The game also uses a number of alternative modes of play. The main game, which uses an interesting password system which uses the beans and an extra, moving bean, is one player. There is also a 2 player mode (called “Gear to Gear Mode”), which I assume uses 2 connected Game Gears. There is an “Exercise Mode”. There is also a “Puzzle Mode”, which requires the player to complete specific challenges (using the same gameplay) and is designed to resemble a piece of lined paper.
In conclusion, the game was fairly enjoyable. I enjoyed the gameplay, it was interesting to use different colours, as it caused some unexpected moments when groups of same coloured beans suddenly formed groups. The game also increased the difficulty at an even pace and to the right level. The game also used some interesting alternative modes. The story for the game was non-existent. The design for the game was interesting and vibrant. The music was repetitive and unsuitable. I also found the music a little annoying.
I also felt that this game would work well on a portable console. I would not be motivated to play a simple game like this on a large screen and spend long amounts of time on it. Instead, it seems like a nice game to play on a small machine for a short period of time while waiting for an appointment or somewhere with little entertainment options, recording the password afterwards to allow the player to continue where they had finished previously. I owned Tetris on the Game Boy and, while I would not have selected it if I had the time to play more in-depth games, I did like playing it for a few minutes while waiting for something. I felt this game could have a similar use.