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Retro Game Review: Who Wore it Better?: Dr. Ivo Robotnik or Kirby
When I decided to do this review, I did some research trying to figure out what Puyo Puyo translated to in English, my native tongue. I had a LOT of trouble finding a direct translation. Some folk say it means the number two, or an onomatopoeia for kiss similar to how we would say “smack”. And someone else seemed to think that it was a word that was difficult to translate, that has to do with a cute little hair curl or the part of the hair- as in where you can see the scalp because you parted it. The only real consensus that I could gather was that the title was meant to be cute.
Which is not really applicable to this game because this is some hardcore puzzle game reflex pounding action. Now, one can argue that the characters in the original game, and the Kirby localization, are cute, borderline adorable. I love the little orange guy, who I will forever think of as the mean bean, because that's how he was listed in the Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine manual. He was so cute, in fact, that as a child I would often get distracted by him, and mess up on the actual game- because seriously this thing is fast paced. It fits right in as a Sonic game.
Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine
Now, for those of you who don't know, the Puyo Puyo series is a puzzle game created by the development team Compile in the early 1990s. Much like Doki Doki Panic, the localization team decided that western gamers wouldn't be open to the title on it's own, as it was considered too Japanese to translate directly. So they decided to use familiar, recognizable characters to appeal to a wider market. Therefore, it was given a cosmetic makeover and released as Kirby's Avalanche for SNES, and Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine for Sega Genesis/Master System. Now, Compile would later become Sonic Team, so many fans believe Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine is a more direct translation. However, having played both games, I've come to the conclusion that they are the same game, as both are ports, with nothing separating them except for cosmetic differences.
The basic premise of the game is simple. Two connected “beans” fall from the sky, and the player must line them up by color. Four “beans” of the same color will disappear. The goal is to clear your screen while filling the screen of your opponent. Like all great games, the gameplay, mechanics, and concept are simple, but the execution is extremely difficult. You'll quickly find yourself unable to keep up unless you possess the lightning fast reflexes that are far more common for a Sonic fan than a Kirby fan.
Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean machine is unique among the Sonic Franchise, as it seems to have very little to do with Sonic. It's somewhat implied that the protagonist is Sonic, but it's never outright stated, and as far as I know, his sprite never appears in the game. It's also strange because it seems to have some commonalities with the Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog TV show (not the show I would consider to be much better written, Sonic SatAM). It has the character Scratch, for example, who, as far as I know, has never appeared in any video game other than this one. However, it does keep the little orange guy, who I love. Distracting though he may be.
Kirby's Avalanche, on the other hand, keeps the same characters as the other Kirby games, and the protagonist is directly stated to be Kirby. The sprites have all changed, and Kirby himself takes the place of the little orange Mean Bean. Playing this game, I always found it strange that Kirby spoke. And he as a bad attitude. He's super mean to his opponents, and that's not something I expect from Kirby. Having played the Kirby games, it's true that he's known to be a soul devouring cannibal, but he's also a BABY. As a star warrior he was put into a sort of stasis, and emerged when he was an infant. He's a silent protagonist, and one that is soaked in innocence. He never seems to really even be aware that he's fighting; he hunts and eats not because he's angry, but because that's how his copy ability works. I didn't like the liberties that the localization team took with the cut scenes. It just didn't seem to fit his character very well.
In conclusion, the gameplay is identical in both ports. But I have to agree with the popular consensus that says that the best localization was, in fact, Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine. I just felt that there was absolutely no need to make Kirby a trash-talking jerk in the cutscenes. It would have made more sense to leave him silent and let the antagonists insult him. It would give more incentive to beat them, and you NEED that incentive. In addition, the game's pace is just far closer to what a Sonic fan would be used to; it moves SO fast, especially in the later levels, and Kirby is more about exploration than speed. It was a strange character to pick for the localization. I feel like Sonic fans were just more prepared for the game.