Let’s… Sorta… Talk About Dr Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine

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There was obviously a meeting somewhere in the Sega offices that suggested Dr Robotnik should have his own game. The weird thing about characters like Dr Robotnik – and I refuse to call him Eggman for the sole reason that it’s 1993, it’s the UK, we called him Robotnik and you’ll have to live with that – is that he’s clearly the comedy villain that no one really wanted to play as. He was a joke character thrown in as the antagonist for a blue hedgehog to try and defeat. He is a character so drenched in his own ineptitude from day one that he is single-handedly one of the best and worst characters ever created.

But do you want to play AS Dr Robotnik? Not really. Unless you want to have him twirling batons in the rhythmic gymnastic events in the Mario and Sonic games because that shit is hilarious… but outside of that? He’s the most ridiculous bad guy in the history of Sega villains. Of course you don’t want to play as him.

Instead… you want to smash his face in… with puzzles.

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Just so you know, that probably isn’t how any of the meetings went down but fuck it, imagine the meetings…

“DOCTOR ROBOTNIK NEEDS HIS OWN GAME.”
“INDEED. WE SHOULD MAKE HIM DO RHYTHMIC GYMNASTICS.”
“FOOLISH HUMAN. THINK HARDER.”
“HOW ABOUT GIVING HIM A PLATFORM GAME WHERE HE ROLLS AROUND LIKE AN EGG?”
“FIRE THE INTERNS.”
“OR MAKING HIM FLY AROUND INSIDE PEOPLE’S DREAMS.”
“FIRE THE OTHER INTERNS.”
“HOW ABOUT A PUZZLE GAME?”
“FIRE THE INTERN’S DOG.”

Look, I don’t have a camera to capture this shit. Let’s just roll with that, OK? It’s canon now.

So apparently someone decided that the best thing to do would be to take an already existing franchise – the Puyo Puyo games – and give it a Sonic-inspired coat of paint. And seeing as the Sonic the Hedgehog cartoon series was just about up and running and vaguely popular (it’s been a long time and I can’t really remember if it was good or not or popular or not or whatever… I’ll go with no either way), they fixed it up to feature some of the characters from the TV series.

I say some because I recognised all of about four. And one of them is Dr Robotnuts himself.

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I mean, seriously… let’s start with this guy. I mean… who on Earth is this guy? He’s called Arms, apparently, but buggered if I recognise him from the TV series or whether he appeared in the comic books… did he? Anyone?

RESEARCH TIME! Apparently the entirety of the game’s cast were featured in the very first episode of the cartoon series… and then Robotnewt creates Scratch and Grounder to make up for the others’ failure – SPOILER ALERT: they don’t; I just saved you many many days of watching the series. You’re welcome.

And because the game decided to base the art design on the cartoon series, they gave us the Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog Robotnik who looked like this:

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And to be honest… he’s even more comedy villain than ever because the majority of the time in the cartoon, they peppered it with awful arse shots and showed him off to be a massively pompous idiot who thought far too much of himself without good reason. So he’s not exactly the most likeable of characters to begin with.

But we don’t actually play the game as him. Nope. We’re playing against him. Thank goodness for that. Instead, we’re playing as a nameless, faceless protagonist in the form of you. I mean… it COULD be Sonic… but Sonic isn’t exactly a puzzle gamer by all intents and purposes. I mean… sharpest tool in the box he certainly ain’t.

Oh wait…

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You see that little orange blob-like thing near the middle of the screen? I think that might be you. Guess what’s worse? HE’S CALLED HAS-BEAN.

Fuck’s sake, guys. I don’t wanna play as a character called fucking HAS-BEAN. I didn’t want to play as Robotnock but I’d take him any fucking day over a character called HAS-BEAN. Seriously. Bollocks to that.

Anyhow, the aim of the game is simply to survive an onslaught of beans better than your opponent. If your screen fills up, it’s game over, man. Game over. I mean… that’s the basic gist of things but to be honest, the idea is to match sets of four like-coloured beans together in an effort to send blocker-type beans to your opponent’s side of the board. Getting rid of four sends over a single solitary blocker wheres setting up larger chains and combos will of course cause the entire screen to rain down beans like it’s all of your enemies’ birthdays all at once or something. The bigger the combo, the less likely it will be for your opponent to survive the onslaught of bean-boozling bewitchery and bollocks. It’s actually one of the more simple examples of how to do a puzzle game right without over-complicating things. Match beans, keep going, voila.

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And fuck it, let’s be clear here, it’s a brilliant two-player game. It really is. If anything, puzzle games thrive on that experience and a game like this lives or dies based on how you and your friends compete with each other. It’s simple enough for everyone to get into and enjoy. It’s challenging enough for players to employ some simple tactics without making a massive fool of your opponents. Matches finish early because of careless mistakes or because you’ve spent too long building up a silly long combo and your opponent got to the punch first.

Things can often get frenetic if you set the speed high enough and there is a handicapping system that can also be employed which does at least set up a level playing field. Although classifying yourself by saying: “I’M A LEVEL 5 HANDICAP ON PUYO PUYO” is not the best ice breaker in the world. You try that on your next date and see what happens. In fact, tell me what DOES happen if you do try it. I would be genuinely interested to find out.

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The one-player features a total of 13 opponents with the final boss being the titular villain himself. He is rightfully the hardest boss in the game and even on easy mode, he’s an absolute sod to defeat. As you scramble your way through most of the earlier levels, you’ll find that the difficulty goes from nice to still nice to also still nice to fuck fuck fuck in a matter of moments. The last two characters are in fact ridiculously hard by comparison to the rest of the generic cast of robot blahness. Scratch, the chicken robot (why a fucking CHICKEN ROBOT???) from the cartoon series is opponent 12 and he’s a smug bastard at the best of times so the fact they managed to get his likeness down so well here is actually quite good even though I desperately want to shove a giant egg into his face at every waking moment STOP FUCKING LAUGHING AT ME, YOU UTTER TWAT.

So despite this being the generally excellent 2-player experience it ought to be, there is only one question remaining: why is this only one my SORTA list of games?

Because it’s… actually a bit dull.

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One player experiences in puzzle games are not always easy to realise. developers have to give the game some sort of hook to the game and in other puzzlers like Bust A Move, there is at least an end goal to some of the one-player experiences and the versus computer mode is actually a riot of fun to play. In Mean Bean Machine… it’s actually not that much fun to play anymore. There doesn’t feel like that much to do. The 2-player mode is the standard 2-player gaming festival like most puzzle games and that’s all well and good but that should be as standard for a game of this kind.

Yes… this is an early puzzle game and there aren’t TOO many of its kind at this point on the console. That basically means that it got away with the simple experience and the story mode, as flat and charmless as it ends up being.

Ahhhhhhh… there’s no charm to it.

Oh dear.

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Every opponent is lacking in any sort of likeability. Yes, the fact they’re all such turdish characters should make you want to pummel their faces in more but it actually has the opposite effect. You don’t give a shit about any of them and if they beat you, there’s no sense of upset, more one of malaise, of indifference, of ‘meh, whatever’ about it. Just press continue and start again from a zero point score. Because having a score of zero is no different than having a score of 999,999 of whatever in the grand scheme of things. BRAGGING RIGHTS, PEOPLE. BRAGGING FUCKING RIGHTS. That’s what you get from this game.

“Hey, I’m a level 5 handicap on Puyo Puyo with a high score of 999,999… you interested?”
“HOLY SHIT YES, TAKE ME TO BED AND SEX ME UP NOW PLEASE.”

No. Just no.

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It’s unfortunate that Mean Bean Machine really hasn’t stood the test of time as much as it could have done. I mean, being based off the Puyo Puyo formula, the series hasn’t really added too much in the years it’s been coming out. Graphically, it’s this horrific mixed bag of excellent character graphics and nifty little cut scenes (which are also chock full of absolutely atrocious puns, which given that I love a good pun is a really hard thing to have to say), and dire stone backgrounds that give the rest of the game a real dirty look.

Yes, it’s meant to be set underground for whatever reason the developers could come up with but let’s be clear here: it’s boring to look at and there is no variety AT ALL in the backgrounds at all. They didn’t even shove in a different background for the practice stages or the 2-player experience. I don’t want to be stuck underground! I could see the beans just fine on ANY other background, I’m sure of it so why am I stuck underground in the dirty alcoves of Robotnickel’s factory base thingy?

BLEH. The final match should be IN the base. Come on. I know it’s a rehash of the Puyo Puyo game that was released in Japan (which this is a reskinned version of) but… really? Nothing?

Dirt it is then.

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After a while, the presentation of the game does start to wear a bit thin and the charmless characters and lack of more options is very offputting after a while. The music isn’t awful by any stretch of the imagination and there are a couple of atmospheric sounding tracks that would have made Sonic Spinball sound a whole lot better – HOLY SHIT THAT GAME WAS A FUCKING TRAIN WRECK OF AUDIO – but not much of it is memorable in the way you remember jingles from Tetris and Bust A Move. It’s very synth heavy but lacking in any sort of melody.

But unless we’re going to be creating some sort of musical puzzle game hybrid, the music isn’t exactly the straw that breaks the camel’s back. If anything, that falls to its lacklustre presentation and lack of any real charm. Yes, we all want to smash Dr Robothole’s face in but we already do that enough in Sonic the Hedgehog games as it is and let’s just leave it there shall we?

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Just don’t make us ever have to play another game as a character called FUCKING HAS-BEAN EVER AGAIN, SEGA.

You’ve been warned.

You’re killing us here, Sega.

You’ve BEAN MEAN to us.

Eh?

EH?

EH?!

Suit yourselves.

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