Best Game Ever – The history of puzzle games leading up to Baku Baku

Some day in the far off future, Tetris will be played with six screens. One screen will feature the gameplay while the other five will show images of unrelated games being automatically played. All five other games will be superior to Tetris.

Once upon a time there was an evil Communist engineer named Alexey Pajitnov. Don’t bother asking Alexey if he is an evil Communist because, like all evil Communists, he signed a blood oath with Stalin (and possibly Hitler) to hide his menacing ways should Soviet Russia ever fall. Anyway, Alexey was a genius and in 1985 he bestowed upon the world a video game he liked to call Destroy American Freedoms. This was later renamed Tetris.

The premise of Tetris was to line up American freedoms in order to destroy them. A line represented free elections, the L piece was the right to a free trial, the other L piece was the freedom of the press, and so on. The political philosophy behind Tetris was that any society that amassed too much freedom would self destruct, yet by leaving a single block of tyranny in a line, disaster could be averted.

Pajitnov never made a second hit game, likely because he is now part of a top secret project to revive Lenin, or perhaps because there is only so much evil a man can create. This isn’t to say he didn’t try to make more classic games. Welltris took Tetris and added a third dimension while Hatris took Tetris and added hats. Ultimately, even a puzzler like Wetrix that was designed by some unknown developer is more famous than any of Pajitnov’s recent attempts, like HatWelltris, which predictably adds a third dimension to Hatris.

Five years after Tetris took the world by (Red) storm, Sega held a corporate meeting and posed the question, “How can we make Tetris less fun?” The result of this meeting was a Tetris clone called Columns. It mimicked not only much of the gameplay of Tetris, but also shared a common theme. Where Tetris had you lining up and smashing Western freedoms, Columns has the player line up precious stones for the sake of shattering them. Very obvious shades of Egyptian lore color Columns. Yes, that’s right, the very same Egyptians who enslaved the Jewish people.

Few people realize that Nintendo actually based Dr. Mario on the real life work of Nobel laureate Dr. Mario Molina.

While Sega focused on making their hatred of the Jews known at gameplay’s expense, another Japanese company called Nintendo held a board meeting and raised the question, “Tetris is good, Columns is bad; how can we cash in on the lining up falling crap craze?” Their answer was Dr. Mario. The premise was simple; Mario must drop medication onto germs that represent psychological disorders, such as homosexuality and dendrophelia. The game was fun but suffered from archaic science that believed homosexuality is a mental disorder that can be cured by medication. Experts now agree that forced repeated viewings of the A-Team are the only known cure.

After the success of Dr. Mario, yet another Japanese company called in a meeting and asked the question, “How can we take Dr. Mario, modify it slightly, yet still take most of the credit for being the first great Tetris clone?” This company was called Compile and their game was Puyo Puyo, which roughly translates into Snot Snot. And it turns out mucus was the smart way to go as it was all the rage in 1991. Figuring, “Hey, I have two nostrils,” the game drops pairs of differently colored snot from the top of the screen and has the player match them up. It’s all very similar to Dr. Mario, only the paired pieces can separate, much like snot does under the pressure of a seeking finger. Puyo Puyo’s gameplay was better than any of the Tetris clones before it and arguably better than Tetris itself, but gameplay wasn’t its only strong point. The cast of characters was eclectic and bizarre and obviously came from a mind influenced by illegal drugs we can only assume exist only in Japan.

This picture is pretty self-explanatory.

For my money, as good as Puyo Puyo is and as many sequels and ports they make (roughly 97, including Kirby’s Avalanche and Dr. Robotnic’s Mean Bean Machine), a game from 1995 called Baku Baku tops all other Tetris clones. Sega, clearly upset that their Columns was worse than not only Puyo Puyo, but also polio, decided to give puzzle games another try. Columns failed because it was only 75% identical to Tetris. To succeed, Sega would have to be less original. So they took Puyo Puyo and made exactly one gameplay change, but what a change it was. Instead of pieces all being identical but for color, Baku Baku divides each color into two kinds of pieces — food and animal. In what can only be seen as a commentary on not just America’s obesity problem, but our tendency to overfeed our pets, the food animal paring is actually a riveting play mechanic. It allows for the player to stockpile a few dozen bones before unleashing a single dog piece upon them, thus decimating an opponent by dropping a ton of pieces onto his pile.

More clones of Alexey Pajitnov’s Communist propaganda game Tetris are as certain as the rising of the sun. That one of these will manage to top the frenetically paced gameplay and wit (one character is named Poly, and another one Gon) of Baku Baku is as unlikely as Dr. Mario curing homosexuality. Seek out a Sega Saturn, if for no other reason than to play Baku Baku and brag about how hardcore you are because you have a system with four good games on it. It will be worth it for the gaming joy it brings and for the message it sends; please, limit your pet’s daily food intake.

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17 years ago

I don’t think Pajitnov was alive when the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact was made.  He probably signed it in blood for Khruschev and Gorby.