Dr Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine is a puzzle game developed my Compile and published for the Sega Genesis in 1994. Mean Bean Machine is a localisation of the Puyo Puyo series which was released and developed in the West because Compile was the developer of the original Puyo game which was released in Japan for multiple consoles in 1991. The concept behind Puyo Puyo is that there are some similarities drawn from games like Tetris and Columns, but the player has pieces have 2 pieces to it and instead of making lines, the player is trying to match up 4 of the same colour. This game and the Puyo Puyo concept could be considered the beginning of what would later be considered Match 3 games. This game was also localised for the Super Nintendo as well under the title Kirby’s Avalanche.
This game is also quite unusual for a game based in the Sonic universe and a part of the Sonic franchise because the main character is not Sonic and the player does not control Sonic. The character the player is playing is actually themselves, which I thought was a cool idea because when the player completes the game, there is more of a feeling that the player saved the world rather than Sonic. The only other games that I have played in the Sonic franchise where Sonic does not make an appearance is Knuckles Choatix and Tail’s Sky Patrol.
In the city Mobius, the beans that enjoy themselves and have fun have been kidnapped and put into a machine that turns the beans into robot slaves. The reason why Dr Robotnik kidnaps the beans is because he wants to rid the planet of fun and music and Dr Robotnik has built minions from these beans. It is up to the player to match the beans up with their respective colours, so that the beans can be set free and the beans can live in peace and happiness once again.
I find this story to be a welcome change for the story of the mainline Sonic games because it offers a valid reason for the Puyo Puyo aspects of the game to exist. The fact that the player is the main character and hero in the story really adds something extra to the story because it makes the player feel like they are the most important thing and the thing that can save the day. However, the game does not allow the player to name the character who goes through the story meaning that the hero is unnamed.
The gameplay of Mean Bean Machine is exactly the same as Puyo Puyo apart from the characters that are depicted in the game are reskinned to represent characters from the Sonic universe. The main objective of the game is to match 4 of the game colours which then removes them from the player’s field of play and if the player makes combos where pieces fall and remove multiple sets of pieces, then the player can send junk pieces to the other player’s side. The junk pieces have no set colour, but are destroyed when the player matches the same colour near the junk pieces.
The game has 2 main modes which is multiplayer and the scenario mode, the later being the main story mode of the game. The game has 13 levels, each with increasing difficulty as the player goes through the stages. I really like the difficulty curve in this game because the beginning really allows the player to get used to building combos and learning the different ways that the pieces can be linked. Also, in the first 4 levels the player won’t get hit very often with combos from the opponent, which adds to the accessibility of the game for audiences of all ages. The game is also really fair with the fact that the game has unlimited continues, which really helps especially with the higher difficulties.
The graphics of the game look fantastic with each individual opponent having their own distinct look and personality to them. The character design are also based upon robots that are designed like different pieces of machinery such as a robot that looks like a drill and one that looks like a spring. Each one of these opponents feels like a part of the machine that Dr Robotnik’s is controlling to kidnap the beans. There is almost a feelings that as you defeat the opponents and get closer to facing off against Robotnik himself, that the player is slowly taking parts of the machine apart, even though the opponents are Robotnik’s minions because after the 12th and final minion is down, the factory Robotnik is running explodes. It is almost like each minion is a crank or a gear that keep the machine going and as they get defeated, the machine weakens and then fails.
The controls of the game are really fluent and very responsive, which is a major plus because as the player gets further through the game, the speed that the pieces fall increases eventually to the point of the pieces almost locking to place immediately on the higher difficulties. The controls work fantastic and are really intuitive because down on the direction pad drops the piece quicker than the fall speed, whilst A rotates the piece left and B to the right. These controls make sense because if it was right or left to rotate on the directional pad, it would have meant that the face buttons on the controller would have been unused and it is more comfortable and more precise having the face buttons rotate the pieces.
The music in Mean Bean Machine is awesome and gets more intense as the player gets further into the game. However, my main issue compared to a similar game that did the Puyo Puyo theme, Tetris Attack had individual themes for each stage, whilst Mean Bean Machine has a theme for stages 1-4, 5-8, 9-12 and then a final theme for stage 13. What I am trying to say is that the themes for each series of stages are strong enough on their own, but some more themes for each individual stage would have made each stage feel a little bit more unique. The other issue with the music is that the themes whilst of a high standard, just don’t last long enough for how long the player might find themselves in a stage for. The other modes do have some amazing music as well, such as the multiplayer theme, which has a great and also memorable theme behind it. So, the music whilst great, does not have enough themes or enough variety for my taste.
Dr Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine is still a game which I really like to revisit because I really enjoy the aesthetic of the game and also the great details on the character sprites. The story is switched up really nicely compared to the other Sonic games and is not throw away in any way at all. The gameplay and the controls are extremely easily to understand and pick up, even for younger players and the difficulty curve is really fair. The only downside is that there sadly is not enough variety in the soundtrack to make it stand out and after a while the themes do feel like they come stale. Still a great puzzle game to play because of the simplicity of the mechanics and the memorable characters.
Copyright ©2017 Liam Piper. All Images Used Under Fair Use