Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine - Retro Reflections - TBT

Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine by developer Compile Corporation and publisher SEGA—SNES Throwback Thursday retro reflection written by Hamza. 1993.

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

One of the many reasons why I love me some puzzle games is because of the ability to cause a chain reaction. Yes, I love chain reactions in what ever game that carries it. There’s something orgasmic about it, something inexplainably seductive about watching many things blow or disappear in a continous succession. Take Boomshinefor example. That game is nothing but12 levels of majestic chain reaction. You do nothing except hope that the reaction you started manages to explode the required bubbles on-screen to progress to the next round. Other such examples are Bangai O-Spirits and Henry Hatsworth. Both on the NDS and both worth checking out.Though Columns on the SNES is my current love for the moment, I believe I can make a big space in my heart for Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine – a Genesis “match-and-disappear” classic that’s as long and funny as its title. It is simply too good a game to miss and too addictive to put down under fifteen minutes.

Dr. Robotnik as you all know is the main villain of the Sonic the Hedgehog universe. As one of the few titles not to include the blue blur, Dr. Robotnik takes center stage and stars boldly in his own game in his own spotlight, with no restraints or regrets. On the surface, Mean Bean plays similarly to the other titles in the genre, and you’re instantly forgiven if you were reminded of other identical games. So what if you replace blocks with beans? So what if you eschew specifically-tailored characters for world-wide recognizable ones?

Little do simple-minded people know, and as every able-minded person knows, that these subtle variations make all the difference. If you take the same mentality to (especially) scrollers and platformers, you will notice that no two platform or scrolling games will be the same in design-or-character-wise, but one will undeniably be a doppelganger to the other; whether in terms of the aforementioned or execution or story, that can be discovered and discussed later.

Mean Bean Machine apparently has a story that I couldn’t bother to worry about in the least bit. The gameplay was all I was interested in, and thus directed all my attention to that only. You go head-to-head against a villain character, whose visage with brilliantly animated expressions rests in the middle of the screen. Anytime you see him giving a mischevious grin or smiling like a maniac, you know you’re in trouble and that he’s winning. If he’s frowning or crying or praying, then you’re in the lead and that his “game over” is just around the corner. But there lies a catch. If you decide to lay back and go easy around this time, then there’s a good chance the villain can catch up and turn the tables on you. I’m not sure if this is a genuine game mechanic but I’ve fallen pray to my own over-confidence one too many times, due to the game’s assurance that the enemy is losing and that I’m winning. If it isn’t, then I enjoyed it all the same anyhow.

Fans of the genre know the drill to “match-and-disappear” games; or as I like to call them “Now you see them... ha, ha, ha... Now you don’t”. Anyway, your aim is to combine a set number of blocks to make them disappear and possibly, start a chain reaction, and in general rake up high points and survive longer than your opponent. In this game, the blocks are replaced by beans and fall in pairs vertically. You have to combine 4 or more beans of the same color to make them successfully disappear. You can only change the position of one bean according to your, er, taste. When the cute little anthropomorphic beans meet their colored match, they link themselves together, forming a living chain. Somehow this all sounded better in my head, yet now it seems as if I’m writing a synopsis of a rascist prison film.

Continuing on with the gameplay, if one’s screen fills up completely with beans, they lose. When one causes a big enough chain reaction, the disappeared beans become refugee beans, or “has-beans”, and start falling on the other’s screen. These refugee beans act as flaks, and instead of shielding you from enemy fire, they prevent you from achieving your M.A.D. goal. They cannot be taken out in the normal way. The only way to do that is to match up four adjacent beans, and any nearby refugee bean will disappear along with it. Apart from making you rework your strategy or improvise, refugee beans really only obstruct a perfectly good game.

And one game can go from five to ten minutes easily, even more in the harder levels. Ten minutes equals to almost nine-to-fourteen chain reactions and I can live with that. But don’t let the time scare you; if you’re experienced enough, it might end early for you. The game, I mean!

In conclusion, Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine didn’t quite give me a craving for beans but it did re-ignite my love for puzzle games, and you can bet I’ll be playing more of them in this year... and the year next... and the year third!

Note: Screenshots from all platforms that were available at the time can be found here at Moby Games.

Score: 9 / 10



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