Games That Time Forgot: Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine

Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine box art

A community blog by GoofierBrute

[Destructoid user GoofierBrute takes us on a trip down Puyo Puyo lane with a retrospective on Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine. Beat it, Eggman, I have a soft spot for “Robotnik” and his cornball metal-plated goons. -Jordan]

Welcome back to Games That Time Forgot, where we take a look at games that are often forgotten and lost to time. The cold hard truth about video games is that a video game is a product that is created to make money first. Sometimes in order to do that, some things may need to be added to a game, removed or altered to appeal to a certain market, or in some cases reworked to be part of something completely different. While the former happens on some level even today, the latter is almost non-existent. In fact it’s so rare, that you’ll be forgiven if you can’t name many instances off the top of your head. Of course, there’s the obvious Doki Doki Panic getting turned into the US version of Super Mario Bros. 2, but there’s also the infamous Crazy Castle series, which was reskinned multiple times across different regions, or even the Legacy Editions of the Fifa games if you want to be really scummy. However, none of them stick out to me as much as the game we’re talking about today: Doctor Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine for the Sega Genesis.

Yes, the game we’re talking about today was in fact a reskin of another game. In this case a reskining of Compile’s Puyo Puyo game, which was turned into a Sonic spinoff in the hope of making more money overseas, which isn’t even the only time this has happened by the way. And I use the term spinoff loosely because despite it being about Sonic’s archnemesis, Sonic doesn’t show up at all in Doctor Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine, making it one of the few Sonic spinoffs where the blue blur is nowhere to be found. Hell, it’s not even based on the version of Doctor Robotnik found in the games, but rather the version found in the cartoon The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog.

Yeah, Doctor Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine is probably one of the oddest games I’ve covered so far on Games That Time Forgot, if for no other reason than it seems like a whole lot of trouble to get a puzzle game series onto a Sega platform, a series that since developed its own audience and is now huge in its own right. But just because a game may seem odd or unnecessary, doesn’t mean that it in fact is odd or unnecessary, nor does it mean that it doesn’t have any value or is not worth playing today. And finding out if these old obscure games are worth looking at is the whole point of this series, so let’s take a look at Doctor Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine.

What is Doctor Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine?

The start screen for Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine

Doctor Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine — or Doctor Robotnik and His Mean Bean Machine as it was known in European regions outside of the UK — was released on November 26, 1993 in North America for the Genesis and December 1993 for the Game Gear, with Europe getting the console version in November 1993, and the Game Gear version coming out in January of 1994; Europe also got it for the Sega Master System July 26, 1994. It was never released in Japan on either the Mega Drive or Game Gear, though they did get a PC port of it in 2000. It’s a westernized version of the Mega Drive port of the first game in the Puyo series…..Puyo Puyo. Developed by Compile and published by Sega, Sega were worried that the game’s cute art style wouldn’t be popular in the West, so they pulled a Doki Doki and changed the characters to be more Sonic related, specifically from the cartoon The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog. And honestly, for the life of me, I just can’t figure out why they did that. Not the westernizing of Puyo, on some level I get that, but why base this on a cartoon that not only wasn’t out at the time of development (though it did premiere on September 6, 1993), but was also based on a cartoon that had next to nothing to do with Sonic?

Seriously, when the show was first made, The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog had only the first two games to work with, and Sega of America had made up most of the backstory to Sonic since Sega of Japan didn’t really give them anything to work with. So they made the show more of a slapstick comedy show where Sonic took out his foes with traps and wacky disguises. Not only that, but with the exception of three robots (Coconuts, Grounder, and Scratch) and Robotnik himself, all of the characters in this game only showed up in the first episode. And it was in a flashback, where Sonic took them out. I guess it was some sort of corporate synergy thing, but it still feels really weird, especially if the cartoon didn’t do all that well.

Speaking of weird, I can’t really talk about Mean Bean Machine without talking about the original game it’s based on. Puyo Puyo was initially released in 1991 for the MSX2, developed by Compile, and later ported to the Mega Drive and was released in arcades. While I’m sure most hardcore Puyo Puyo fans know this, but Puyo Puyo is a spinoff (reboot?) of a series of dungeon crawlers released in the late ’80s called Madō Monogatari, also developed by Compile, which is a series of games that used mostly magic instead of physical attacks and had a lot of voice acting and was a bit serious in its initial release. To cover Monogatari and a lot of the lore behind it is a story for another time (read: never), but I just wanted to mention it here briefly just to highlight how weird it’s gotten to come to this point when it comes to Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine. We have a game, based on a TV show, that is loosely based on a video game, which itself is a reskin of a puzzle game that itself is a spinoff of a dungeon crawler.

Everyone got that? Good, let’s see how the game is.

How does it play?

Apparently this robot is named Frankly

So confession time here. I’m not the biggest Puyo Puyo player in the world. I don’t hate it, and I can play it well enough, but I honestly prefer Tetris for my puzzle fix, or Panel de Pon/Tetris Attack if I want my intense multiplayer puzzle game. And if we play Puyo Puyo/Tetris, I’m going with the latter…..and I’m promptly getting my ass handed to me. I’m saying this because this look at Doctor Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine comes from someone who is at most a casual fan and or observer of the series, though ironically, this and Kirby’s Avalanche are what first introduced me to the concept of Puyo Puyo. And from that perspective, it’s actually pretty good, if a little generic.

If you’ve played Puyo Puyo, then you’ve played Doctor Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine, but for those of you who haven’t here’s how it goes. In short, you have pairs of blobs, or beans in this case, that fall down the screen. As you drop them, you can make them disappear by connecting four or more, which then sends garbage blobs, or robo beans in the case of this game, which then flood your opponent’s screen, with the first having the middle left portion of the screen filled being the loser; for those wondering why that is, it’s because that’s where they’re spawned, so covering up that one causes you to lose the game. All of this is simple to understand, but what makes the gameplay work is the strategy behind it, specifically how you clear beans. Sure, it’s easy to just go for the first four beans of the same color (which is what I did when I first played), but to really succeed in Mean Bean Machine (and I guess Puyo Puyo in general), you need to move away from the simple four-bean clear and plan ahead, instead setting up the beans to create multiple chains, which is when you clear out some beans which causes some other beans to fall into place and disappear; think of it like dominoes falling over. And that’s where the brilliance and challenge comes into play, as while it can be incredibly frustrating to have your perfect chain blocked at the last minute, it’s equally just as fun to get that same chain and launch a bunch of junk on your opponent’s screen. Again, while this gameplay isn’t my cup of tea, I can see why it’s gotten as popular as it has.

Overall, Doctor Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine is a pretty good game……but that’s only because it’s a reskinned version of Puyo Puyo, which itself is actually a good game. And while that may have been fine back in the early ’90s, but looking back on it now, there was no point in changing this. Like I said earlier, all of the characters that you fight against in this game are characters that show up in The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog, and even then only four of them showed up consistently. Which again begs the question: why change the Puyo Puyo characters? Sure it may have gotten some sales, but was it really worth it when the reskin added nothing to the game? The characters don’t change anything from the gameplay perspective, most of the music is reused from the original, and there’s very few unique modes or backgrounds. There is a story of Doctor Robotnik taking the citizens of Beanville and turning them into robots to end music and fun forever, but there’s nothing here that sets it apart.

Facing off against Arms in Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine

I know it feels weird that I’ve been spending so much time talking about the presentation, but it’s only because it feels completely redundant. There really wasn’t a need to reskin the game, as it feels like the Puyo Puyo cast would have been fine and no one would have batted an eye. And I know that feels obvious to say now, but even when I first played this, I was genuinely wondering who most of these characters were because I have vague memories about the show they were in despite me watching it as a kid. I guess the point I’m trying to make here is that if you’re going to commit to something like this, at least go all-in with it. Remix some themes from the show, throw Sonic in there for good measure, do something. At least when Nintendo changed Doki Doki Panic to Super Mario Bros. 2, they added some Mario elements to make it feel like it belonged in the series. Even Kirby’s Avalanche, a reskin of the Super Famicom version of Puyo Puyo, put in more of an effort to feel like a Kirby game (though not that much).

I want to emphasize that Doctor Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine is a good puzzle game. It has a nice challenge and the controls feel nice. But the inclusion of Doctor Robotnik from the Sonic cartoon that is known more for YouTube Poops than being an actual good cartoon does make it irrelevant and harder to recommend in this day and age. But how did everyone else feel about it?

The impact and why it was forgotten

Davy Sprocket is a good name for a robot

Doctor Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine was overall pretty well received by critics, both at the time and in recent reviews, with CVG and GamePro giving the game a 90 percent and a 5/5 stars rating, respectively. Critics praised the gameplay, though were less than thrilled with its difficulty, as well as the lack of any real modes outside of some single-player offerings and its two-player mode. The Game Gear version was better received surprisingly, thanks to its inclusion of a puzzle mode. As for its influence, outside of a reference to it in Sonic Mania (the boss fight in Chemical Plant Zone), it was never really talked about all that much afterward, though Sega did surprisingly love to rerelease the game on various Sonic and Genesis/Mega Drive collections, which is actually how I first played it. The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog lasted for one season and was canceled to focus on the show called Sonic SatAM by fans, which was considered the superior show, though the Adventures show lives on thanks to the previously mentioned YouTube Poops and shitposting. And as for Puyo Puyo? While there was an arcade release in North America, the series mostly stayed in Japan as a Sega console exclusive, with Sega even buying the IP in 1998, and was developed by Compile until they sadly went bankrupt in 2001, with Sonic Team developing them from then on. The series was initially called Puyo Pop outside of Japan, and while it may not be as popular sales-wise as say something like Tetris, it still has a strong, dedicated fanbase that loves the games (though it might have been doing better if Sega decided to release more of the games outside of Japan).

As for why I feel Doctor Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine was forgotten, that answer is simple: it became redundant. Doctor Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine is a fine game in and of itself, and there’s nothing wrong with playing it, but if you really wanted to experience that kind of gameplay, you can easily play any of the Puyo Puyo games. Yes, most of them are in Japanese, but considering puzzle games are usually the easiest games to understand language-wise (outside of maybe platformers), you wouldn’t be missing much if you played it solely in Japanese. And even if you needed to read the directions, there are fan patches and translations that can help you with that. There’s even an arcade version of Puyo Puyo that was released around the same time, and while most fans hate how it was translated in the West, it’s still the original gameplay. Hell, you can ignore all of that and just play Puyo Puyo Tetris 2 or Puyo Puyo Championship if you wanted to, or whatever the next Puyo Puyo game is in the future.

The point I’m making here is that there really isn’t a point in playing Mean Bean Machine right now when there are plenty of other options to play today. Most puzzle game franchises don’t really change the formula too much, instead either adding new modes or gameplay options that will either became series mainstays or just get dropped when the next game comes around. For example, the original Tetris on Game Boy gets fondly remembered because of its Soviet Union origins and the fact that it came as a pack-in game for the Game Boy, but outside of a couple of games like Tetris DS and that one Tetris game with Mickey Mouse characters I remember renting once as a kid, I personally couldn’t name many Tetris games, and I consider myself a huge fan of the series. The newest game always replaces the older one in the case of puzzle games, and while there can be merit to going back to older games, more often than not it’s just easier to stick with the newest game in a puzzle series.

Battling against Spike

That’s not to say that there’s no merit to Doctor Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine. I’m sure for a lot of people, this was the first introduction to the Puyo Puyo gameplay, which is awesome. But nostalgia can only take games like this so far before people move on — see Mario Kart and Call of Duty, for example. It also doesn’t help that the game uses the characters from a show that itself has been mostly forgotten by time. Yes, Adventures of Sonic The Hedgehog only had two games to work with at the time, but it still seems weird that one would base a game’s aesthetic around a show that itself was ultimately lost to time. It would have been a lot easier to release the game with the Puyo Puyo characters that you have (obviously change some things like getting rid of the zombie characters and the like), and it would have been fine. Which is funny, because as I said earlier, they did that with the arcade version, which came out around the same time as Mean Bean Machine. And while it wasn’t all that well-received or did that well sales-wise, it still showed that it was possible to bring these characters overseas.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter how Mean Bean Machine looks, so long as the gameplay is solid, which it is. But it does make me wonder how things could have been if they didn’t try to market this as part of the Sonic universe.

Is it worth playing now? And does it deserve better?

Stage 13 in Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine

There’s no harm in playing Doctor Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine, but the better question I would ask is why would you want to?

Doctor Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine isn’t a bad game, but there really isn’t anything in this game that makes it worth checking out right now. While I do think that it would have been a bit better if they didn’t try to sell it as a Sonic spinoff, at the same time, I don’t know if the world was entirely ready for a Puyo Puyo game. It’s still a fine game, but much like other early games, Doctor Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine wouldn’t be my first recommendation to get you into Puyo Puyo. Still, there’s no real harm in playing if you’re curious.

I’ll be honest though guys: this was an incredibly boring game to research and analyze. Hopefully the next game I look at will be something a little more interesting, and while I won’t reveal it here, I will let you know that it is something Sonic-related.

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