Why yes, this is the very first Tip Jar Special for the site! This game was purchased with funds donated by you, the reader. We thank you from the bottom of our rotten, diseased hearts, and hope to bring you more of these Tip Jar Specials, eventually, from now until the time the site gets shut down / goes out in a blaze of glory / I quit and don't come back this time, for realsies, not like all the other times where I reapplied for the job 10 minutes later. Please look forward to them.
A puzzle game on a handheld system? No, impossible! This isn't the era of the Game Boy!
Well... OK, that's a little misleading. We'll have to go to the arcades first.
As it was originally titled, Kollon was an arcade release for Taito's G-Net hardware, developed by Magicpot who on their own website's works list seem to mostly be involved in app development and working behind-the-scenes on stuff. While they've been working on ConCon, an Android puzzler recently, Kollon seems to be their biggest release. We'll go into the gameplay specifics in just a second, but I felt it was important to establish this was an arcade release first- something designed to be played on a big screen- as this will be important later. In any case, while the original Kollon was never released outside Japan it got a PSP port a few years afterwards as a launch title for the system with an added set of characters to fight in single player mode, then later Magicpot had assistance from Artdink to create an enhanced version, Korokoro Kollon, and this one did get translated- specifically as Ultimate Block Party for the US published by Conspiracy Entertainment and as Koloomn in Europe 'courtesy' of 505 Game Street (whose publishing strategy is generally 'send five copies to Europe but four of them go to a shoe shop in Dorset in error'). So, it's this enhanced, localised Magicpot / Artdink joint that we're looking at today.
The closest point of reference for how Koloomn plays is probably Intelligent Systems' Panel de Pon, although it's only really surface elements it uses from there such as the next line of blocks to play with coming from the bottom of the screen, and manipulating the blocks with a cursor that can go all over the field, but in reality it's quite different. Obviously, the goal is to destroy blocks by matching them up (four in any arrangement will do the job) and prevent them from reaching the top of the screen as you constantly have more blocks added from the bottom row. Rather than switching blocks horizontally like Panel de Pon, you've got a square cursor that covers four blocks at once, and you can rotate the blocks within that square clockwise or anti-clockwise, which can send blocks falling down the well if it moves them off a ledge. Before anything else, learning the most effective way to use this cursor is the biggest hurdle to get over- it's not the most intuitive control system in the world, and you have more to keep track of more than you normally would, as just shifting a block across the screen will shuffle everything else about too, potentially messing up combos you'd been setting up beforehand. The learning curve is a little steeper than normal, is what I'm getting at.
Once you do start to get the hang of it though, there's a couple of other wrinkles that give Koloomn a bit of spice. The more unique of the two is being able to glob blocks together as they're being destroyed- rather than disappearing straight away, blocks will spin for a second when you match up enough, so if you're quick and can shuffle a block of the same colour to touch the spinning blocks, it'll be added to the pile and disappear when they stop spinning too. The window to do this is fairly small so it'll be hard to get these at first, but once you master the controls, this a pretty neat mechanic, prompting you to think fast and act sooner. The other wrinkle is in the chain reactions, where you're rewarded even in solo-play for long chains beyond a better score and cleaner pit. Chain reactions will spawn special blocks in the next row with different effects when matched up, including arrow blocks that destroy all blocks in that direction, bomb blocks that destroy a 3 x 3 square of blocks. and blocks that destroy all like-coloured blocks on the stage. Both these mechanics tie nicely into the single-player- when you get a good grasp on the controls it's very satisfying to glob together blocks to clear out space, and you're encouraged to learn the controls better to get chain reactions for those special blocks, because they become essential when the game's speed ramps up (and it ramps up quickly). The pace is quite fast then, and that works in its favour.
Before we get to the versus mode, I feel I need to talk about the visuals, because the stuff outside the game itself is actually great, while the ones tied to the game mechanics are... Less great. The character designs (by Misumi Reiko) and overall aesthetic for the window-dressing for the game do a great job- the borders of the game pit are surrounded by comic book / manga-style panels and speech bubbles (complete with English!) and the characters themselves, with their cel-shaded style, are vibrant and expressive. There's only eight of them and they don't really make much of a difference to how you play, but with designs that riff on well-established characters and genre staples (you've got a Tokusatsu hero, a Golgo 13-style assassin, a Lupin III-esque thief, etc.) and backstories that are more than a little odd (President Goodman set fire to his school but he was honest about it so it's OK), they give what would otherwise be a standard puzzle game a lot of charm.
Where the game falters visually- and this may vary for you depending on your eyesight- is in the presentation of the blocks themselves which is when we get back to this being an arcade title originally. It can sometimes be a little hard to see what's going on in your pit with the PSP's screen. The main issue here is the different block colours- red and yellow blocks can be confused with orange ones, and blue and purple can get mixed up too on the small screen (this doesn't really show in our screenshots, annoyingly). Less an issue with the normal blocks, but definitely one with the special ones spawned by chain reactions, as you can just barely see what colour they are. Maddeningly, there is a green block which is far more distinct, but this doesn't show up until much later in a game! Other puzzle games use other visual cues to differentiate blocks in a flash- Puyo Puyo's blobs have different shapes, and Panel de Pon's tiles have distinct symbols on them. Those sound like such minor details, but they help identify the contents of your pit very clearly. Koloomn's blocks don't have such identifying features, certainly not for its special blocks, so while this is not a problem for the arcade release, on a smaller screen some players (myself included) might have to squint to see what the special blocks actually are, which can really screw you over in single-player where every second counts.
Back to the game itself, it goes a bit off-the-rails is in its competitive mode, which adds one final, possibly unnecessary wrinkle. Similar to Puyo Puyo, destroying blocks sends garbage over to your opponent's side, but that's only if you destroy a few. The game's tutorial actively discourages you from doing this though, as the garbage blocks can be linked to block-destruction as if they were like-coloured blocks. Instead, destroy many blocks at once and your opponent gets inflicted with a special effect that hampers their ability to play, such as reversing their controls, having rows blocked off so they can't move the cursor over them or having blocks fuse together into new shapes rather than disappear. An interesting idea, but their implementation feels a little clumsy- rather than having to use specific items to trigger these effects, they're tied to the colour of the blocks you just destroyed. Destroying enough blue blocks at a time, for instance, dumps huge blocks that can't be moved onto your opponent's field.
However, the block colours you get are still going to be random- this goes for both ones you get from the bottom of the screen and the special blocks- so versus matches feel considerably more chaotic and random than perhaps they should be as status effects get piled on to varying degrees of severity with no real way to anticipate what effects you'll get to use beyond luck of the draw. I can understand the progression they had in mind- get a chain reaction to spawn a special block, use the special block to get a load of blocks destroyed- but while there is an element of strategy in trying to focus on certain status effects (and not combining some- big blocks can be moved if you give your opponent the big cursor effect too!) it still feels a little too anything-goes for my tastes. I can imagine some players taking a shine to it though, and in fact there's an extra mode where you can train yourself against these status ailments during a single-player game, and it's actually pretty fun when you're on your own! When fighting another player though, it just feels a bit too jumbled to really get into. Not that I'm inherently against more chaotic elements like this in games- The Outfoxies is basically organised chaos and I love it for that- but it doesn't seem to be a very good fit for Koloomn's other mechanics. A bit like the special powers in Puyo Puyo~n, they just feel a bit too over-the-top and unnecessary.
With that said, I'd at least recommend giving Koloomn a try. It's not bad! There is a learning curve to the cursor (and the game knows it- one of the status ailments is to make your cursor even bigger) but the single-player mode is genuinely quite fun, one that challenges your mastery of the cursor system and ability to think quickly, aiming for combos and chain reactions to get those special blocks to clean your pit up against increasingly-fast block spawns. It also encourages 'on the fly' play as you have to work fast to glob blocks together before they disappear, an essential tactic to getting anywhere with it. The character designs also give the game a lot of personality (Marinne is the clear favourite, but also let's hear it for Dynamite Ace). On the other hand, I feel the versus mode would've benefited greatly from having an option to disable the status ailments to make it a bit more controlled and less utterly chaotic, or perhaps changed the rules so you had a little more control over those ailments that wasn't reliant on block colour. However, if you're looking for a slightly more difficult portable puzzle game, then Koloomn is definitely one for your consideration.
For being a portable puzzle game, Koloomn is awarded...
In a sentence, Koloomn is...
Pretty OK, really!