We want you! Save our planet! Meteos greets you with a call to enlist – a war is raging and recruits are needed to protect the system from certain doom. So once you have stopped gawking at the lush intro sequence, it’s time to start worrying about how to repel the deadly attack of the meteors and send them back from whence they came.
Puzzle games crop up a fair bit. They often have falling blocks. Meteos goes one step further and has blocks being thrown right at you. It lulls you into a false sense of security by having a relatively sedate rate of attack for a couple of minutes and then quickly ramps up the fierceness to “quite severe”. At this point the common thought is “Too scared. Can't move. Brain locked”. To remain calm enough to continue without panicking takes quite some discipline.
Different coloured blocks (Meteos) drop on to the touch screen. When they pile up into columns, the blocks can be moved up and down the columns with the stylus – no sideways movements are allowed. To stop the screen filling up, arrange the colours into rows of 3 to 5 identical blocks or a column of 3 and then the chain of blocks will form booster rockets (they turn black and flames shoot out of the bottom). A musical sound effect accompanies this boost, adding to the base layer of music underneath – the soundtrack is quite funky and varies a lot between planets. These booster rockets attempt to leave the atmosphere (bottom screen), their success depending on the level of gravity on the selected home-planet and the amount of other blocks resting on top. After this, the rule-set gets a little complicated, since a variety of extra measures can be taken to ensure that any upwardly mobile blocks reach yuppie nirvana. The detail of these is best left to the players in a voyage of discovery, but in a nutshell, finding ways to create secondary boosts is essential to avoiding an untimely overload of meteors on a planetary/touch screen scale. If a group of blocks can’t be used to create another boost in an airborne group, then you can either flick single blocks from the ground up at the group, or wait for it to fall back to earth, rearranging the blocks on the ground on either side to form a bounce group. Occasionally items drop on to the screen that either help (like bombs) or hinder (like gas clouds). These items are triggered by touching them with a 5 second countdown, quickened by tapping on them repeatedly. Depending on the game mode selected, the aim is to either last for an amount of time (or as long as possible) or clear an amount of blocks.
So having launched a bunch of different blocks back into space, what happens to them? Apart from saving the day or suddenly appearing on an opponent’s screen to mess up their progress, the Meteos are also banked, ready to purchase new home-planets, items, music and rare block types (once encountered). Collectathon is go! And it really is go, because the merge/purchasing screen shows exactly how many of each coloured block are still needed to buy each currently unobtainable item – the desire to have more stuff is huge.
Since each game is generally quite short, Meteos is very suitable for quick pick-up-and-play timeframes and also for 2 player wireless challenges. Only one cart is needed, with the game sent across in a few short seconds. The top screen can be customised to show the opponent’s screen in very basic detail (no colours, just blocks), for easy choice of taunt moments. There’s even a helpful demo-send facility which stays in a friend’s DS until turned off. All multiplay stats are recorded for later gloating. Total game stats are also available in astonishing detail, right down to storing the date you played your first game of Meteos.
Extended play reveals a love-or-hate game. Some will love the short play enforced by the steep speed increase, whereas others will be put off, wanting a more sedate experience. If you like your puzzlers to take a while like say Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s other recent game, Lumines (PSP), then fear Meteos. If you crave an extreme experience of condensed timeframe urgency, then fear yourself – but Meteos will sort you out.
Play options are comprehensive in every way, with 3 mission modes, time attack, endurance, block attack, with a beautiful and intuitive menu system linking them all. The menu buttons themselves can bizarrely be moved around the screen, so don’t rely on remembering their screen placement if you have no Japanese knowledge – instead study the icons in the corner of each button. Different parts of the menu also have their own theme-tune and finding yourself tapping a foot in time to the network transmission tune must be widespread.
Meteos succeeds on so many levels. It is a DS game that makes worthwhile use of the stylus (it’s even playable with a fingernail). It’s crazily addictive if allowed to be. The music mix is a joy. The sheer variety of blocks, physics, planets and ways to actually get the blocks off the screen makes other puzzle games seem weak. The fact there’s even a story with a large cast of characters, all contributing something different to the game, is pure icing. It’s not for everyone, but those that want to try a game that mixes a bit of twitch with some brain-strain must step up and give Meteos the chance it deserves.
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