Meteos (DS) review
"Though the whys and wherefores behind such an oversight may be obvious, it should be noted that in pandering to the portable 5 minute ethos, Meteos' heady mix of brain twisting action has sadly been rendered stilted and neut. It's action best suited to the time between bus stops, anything more and you're schmit out of luck. "
In a round about kind of way, Mizuguchi Tetsuya is his own worst enemy. You see, following up one success with another can be difficult at the best of times, when your last great hurrah was the sweet and sexy Lumines (PSP) however, it might even be down right impossible. So let it be known here and now that Meteos is pretty good, nay scratch that, it's solidly great! And any trace of negativity for the time being simply reflects on how much of a bind the poor guy was really in. For it's with a sort of, kind of, "is he going to pull this off?" attitude that we'll get things started, explaining how Meteos is a yet another falling blocks puzzler the likes of which you haven't really seen before. It's familiar yet alien, unique yet flawed. It's what Tetris could have been had Alexey Pajitnov put 2 and 2 together and come up with Armageddon. But for all its appeal and abundant charm, Meteos will be remembered for dropping the ball. A stark reminder of what can happen when the producer has too much on his plate already...
When you wish upon a star...
From the moment Meteos opens with a bang, there should be little doubt in your mind that the rules have changed. Scratch your head, check the box, confirm the genre, then reel in the fact that the explosive, CG opening sequence has just started your pulse. Bang! Boom! BLAST! The planet Meteos has exploded. Its core fragments now hurtle through the galaxy, posing a risk to humans and aliens alike. Red Alert! Red Alert! Life as we know it hangs in the balance, and the only one who can do anything about it is you... ain't that a kicker? As superfluous as all that may seem, Meteos actually makes good use of the premise in constructing its challenge. The core fragments are your blocks while each threatened planet is your stage, and any rare metals you pick up along the way can be used to open up a slew of bonus extras... but we're getting ahead of ourselves and there's gameplay to discuss.
So what is Meteos and why should you care? Borrowing the basic Tetris formula of old, the action takes place within a genre standard rectangular play field where a series of genre standard multi-colored blocks will fall. As the screen begins to fill, players must use their stylus to move these blocks either up or down their respective columns in the hopes of matching up three of a kind. Horizontally or vertically, the matched blocks then form a rocket and shoot off into space, carrying with them anything that happens to be racked up above. It's with lift off underway however that gravity becomes a factor, and before your rocket comes crashing back to earth you'll want to rearrange those blocks on the fly! Matching further sets of three adds fuel to the thrust while lightening the payload and clearing the screen. Match, launch, watch and repeat. I'd say it's not rocket science but who am I kidding?
For all its good intentions however, there's something about Meteos that doesn't quite gel. Few could fault the number of game modes that have been lavished upon players, nor would they want to question the amount of variety that each represents. From time attack to story mode to multiplayer and back again, there's certainly plenty to keep players occupied long into the night. Each completed challenge also yields a number of precious "metals" which are then in turn used to further the overall experience. Extra planets (or should that be stages?), sound tests, bgm tracks and the like are there for the taking while the game cart conveniently records and manages all of your stats. And with a typical blast of Meteos lasting an average of only 5 to 10 minutes, you'll always have the opportunity to come back for more.
But therein lies the start of our problems, it's not the action so much as the lack of an extended challenge.
Though the whys and wherefores behind such an oversight may be obvious, it should be noted that in pandering to the portable 5 minute ethos, Meteos' heady mix of brain twisting action has sadly been rendered stilted and neut. Where other puzzlers give players a chance to find their groove over 10, 20, 30 minute bouts of frenzied chaos, the shortened rounds here serve only to break the pace and disrupt concentration, almost to the point of annoyance. You'll begin your game and all will be sweet, then with only a few short minutes under your belt it soon becomes time to start again. Start, stop, start and stop. It's action best suited to the time between bus stops, anything more and you're schmit out of luck.
If that was the sole point of contention then perhaps I could have praised Meteos some more before slapping it with a caveat and telling you to check it out... as luck would have it though I'm shooting for buyer beware. But first let it be known once more that such concerns do not reflect upon the abundant variety Meteos has to offer, a point clearly evidenced by the sheer number of special items available at your disposal. Incendiaries clear the playfield of blocks and drills plow down through the columns, then we've got smoke bombs, axes, rockets and hammers both big and small. And though the vast majority of such items lack any trace of originality, their instantly familiar effects nicely offset the alien like nature of the challenge at hand. So smile, grin and be happy my friends, I'm about to rain on your parade.
You see, the biggest, blackest mark against the good name Meteos can be found in its unfortunately broken game design. Broken as in, why bother playing it the way you're supposed to when randomly brushing your stylus across the screen produces the same results. For it's having had their play area over-run with blocks that players can literally cut lose, rubbing at random and setting up chain reactions they may not have otherwise seen. Remember that buyer beware? Here it is. Indulge this tactic even once and it becomes a habit hard to ignore, those that show restraint however will find a five minute, five star experience that's solidly great. Say, how's your self control?
Ultimately what surprises the most is the way Meteos still manages to shine. That it's able to survive such poor indiscretions and still find time to entertain should speak volumes for the way Mizuguchi Tetsuya and his team at Q Entertainment have put together the overall product. It's not bad, far from it in fact. There's a wealth of technique to learn and those who are willing to spend the time here, putting the pieces together so to speak, are going to find a game that's well worth the effort. Others though won't be so patient, and in a way who could really blame them? Meteos has lost opportunity written all over it, and as such can be quite the disappointment. Not the best puzzler on the block but hardly the worst. A fitting epitaph for a game that should have, would have, could have been better, had the producer simply kept his eye on the ball. One more time with feeling then, buyer beware...
* Meteos is one of the most original puzzlers the genre has seen in a while
* There's a healthy variety of game modes on offer
* Hard and fast is how this game wants to be played
* Players will need to relearn techniques in order to keep up with the challenge
* A slew of unlockable extras will keep players plugging on for weeks
* The rocket powered action can be stunningly addictive
* A hyper active night club cool meets hard SF chic theme provides a unique sense of self
* The lack of an extended, one session challenge proves to be a serious issue
* A single game breaking flaw nearly ruins the experience
* Meteos has clearly fallen short of the greatness displayed by Lumines
Staff review by Michael Scott (March 28, 2005)
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