|I half-expected a cheap columns port with Sakura Taisen characters as an easy cash-in on the franchise but this puzzler maintains the flawless production values of the regular games in the series. In fact it plays like a Sakura Taisen 2.5, with extensive Story Modes for many of the characters from the first two games. All the incipient romance, wonderful voice acting and gorgeous art and sound of the series can be found here in abundance except now instead of cute semi-romantic interludes between mechanized strategic combat, you've got semi-romantic interludes between vicious bouts of vs Columns action. "Fight! Fight for my love!"|
The three-gem-dropping action of Columns itself has never been the deepest puzzle game but it receives a considerable boost in the strategy department here in that each character has different abilities surrounding a "ki" meter that builds as you complete gem triplets. Once you've filled a level of the meter you can choose to attack (drop time-locked gems on the other player), store the level and start building another one, or defend (erase blocks on your side). Some characters' dropped blocks last longer, some erase more blocks on defense, and so forth. Not only that, you also pick from one of four (plus two unlocked later) battle modes for your character that give certain benefits to certain styles of play: one lets you store a fourth ki level, another charges the ki meter faster, and so on, among other more subtle adjustments.
As you battle, of course, the Sakura Taisen girls strike different poses and play voice clips in the background. There's also a standard Vs. mode against the CPU, a puzzle mode with specific set challenges, a two-player vs. mode, an online mode that nobody in North America seems to know anything about, and a couple other modes that I haven't even tried to figure out yet. Plus tons of stuff to unlock for completing modes with different characters, including two higher levels of difficulty after the first three (though the default second level is plenty challenging enough as far as I'm concerned).
Overall it's an amazing amount of high-quality content in what by all rights should have been a just another cheap knock-off puzzler. You even get a pack of character cards in the CD case. The only thing you could possibly consider a downer about this game is that, like Sakura Taisen 1 and 2, it does not support VGA. But if you can play without VGA and enjoy the Sakura Taisen series, or just a really good version of Columns, you will love this game.