Meteos (DS) review
"Planet Meteo is a big bully! While other planets all live in peace and harmony, this evil planet has a chip on its shoulder. More than just a chip, actually. Meteo has bricks on its shoulders. Multi-coloured bricks, called meteos, that the planet sees fit to hurl into the galaxy. And not just randomly, either. No, these bricks are launched at other planets where they pile up until the planet is engulfed in a mountain of them. When this happens, the meteos go nova, and the planet is destroyed. "
Planet Meteo is a big bully! While other planets all live in peace and harmony, this evil planet has a chip on its shoulder. More than just a chip, actually. Meteo has bricks on its shoulders. Multi-coloured bricks, called meteos, that the planet sees fit to hurl into the galaxy. And not just randomly, either. No, these bricks are launched at other planets where they pile up until the planet is engulfed in a mountain of them. When this happens, the meteos go nova, and the planet is destroyed.
Sadly for Meteo, and luckily for the squiggles that inhabit this vile rocks victims, the Meteos that are launched fall foul of Universal Brick Physics™. One day, purely by chance, 3 meteos of the same colour touched. This had the effect of launching the Meteos back into space. Silly Meteo, imagine being unaware of the GALACTIC RULE that if blocks are falling, putting 3 of the same colour together is the one guaranteed way to get rid of them?
These lesser planets soon hatched a plan. A ship was created, called the Metamo Ark, with the intention of saving squiggle-folk across the Universe. The plan was in 2 stages. First save the planets already under attack. Second, stick it right up Meteo! And this, my friends, is where you come in. As pilot of the Metamo Ark, your job is to align falling blocks into groups of 3 similarly-coloured ones. Do this through enough stages, and then do it once more to the Daddy. Sounds like a puzzle game, to me.
Puzzle games live and die on the central play mechanic. Make it too fiddly, and no-one will play. Make it too bizarre, and no-one will play. Here, Meteos plays a trump card. Since the DS is a touch screen console, this opens up a unique control method. By utilising the DS touch-screen, you use the stylus to move the meteos up and down the columns. There is the option to use buttons to control the action, but the stylus offers pinpoint accuracy at higher speed, and is infinitely preferable to the more cumbersome traditional control method. There is a small annoyance factor when you accidentally line up 3 meteos that you didn't even realise were there, but this is something that you soon learn to bypass. It is not long before you are able to spot potential meteos line-ups, and either launch or leave them as you desire. (Randomly scribbling all over the screen may help you out occasionally, but claims that it breaks the game are vastly overstated.)
Actually, calling Meteos a puzzle game is only 50% accurate. Whilst there are undeniable puzzle elements, this game has more to it than just being Tetris Clone #1,478,658,734,654,298,129,038. The main difference is the intensity of the action compared to other games in the same genre. Wheras a skilled player can make a game of Tetris last up to an hour, Meteos packs all it's action into 5 minute bursts. Indeed, the main story mode can be completed on your first run through it inside 20 minutes. And that includes the couple of continues you will use along the way. In fact, the structure of Meteos feels more akin to a fight game than a puzzle game. There is no 'Marathon' mode, as such. Even 'Simple' mode soon fills your screen at a remarkable rate.
The reason for the intensity is that at no point do you ever get to control the individual blocks falling onto the playfield. All you can do is manipulate them once they have landed. As time goes on, the rate at which they fall increases. And, it doesn't take a whole lot of time to increase this rate. You can call more blocks at any time, by temporarily speeding up the rate of fall. This leads to a novel balancing concept ; Too few blocks on-screen means no matches. (Call more!) Too many means you just have to clear the screen as fast as possible, without setting up high-scoring chains.
This cramming in of the action is a double-edged sword. On the one hand you will never have to make time to play. This game is designed to be a pick-up-and-play masterpiece, of the kind that handheld consoles are meant for. On the other hand, players may find it difficult to get drawn in the way they do in other such games. And, since you are controlling with the stylus, this is probably a good thing. The DS console itself is rather poorly-designed for extended play sessions, in my opinion, leading to aches and pains in the palms and thumbs. Your left hand WILL hurt!
While short bursts of action might not be to everybody's taste, the game certainly does its best to offer variety within this framework. There are 3 ways to play the Story mode, ranging from straightforward Planet A -> Planet B etc. -> Meteos, to a branching version where you are given objectives to complete in order to access the higher planets. Throw in some timed score-challenges, as well as single-cart downloadable multiplayer, and there really is nothing more you could ask for from this cart. 32 planets are unlockable in all, each having different attributes that can strategically alter the way you play. Some have less gravity, some only allow horizontal line-ups to launch, some just get more of one type of meteos. As well as items for multiplayer, and sound banks for the individual planets, you will find yourself unlocking new stuff all the time. There is almost always something you are aiming for, and if you are the anal type who demands 100% completion then you will be here for a long time. Did I say long time? I meant a good time.
A word should be made about the presentation. Graphically, this game is bright, colourful, and ... it just looks right. The meteos come in countless varieties, and you can distinguish between them all instantly. Furthermore, the squiggles all have their own distinct character, dancing about at the top of your screen in delight/panic. Meantime, the game sounds quite fantastic. Every planet has its own main theme, which is generally a simple loop. The loop changes to a more dramatic version whenever you are in danger of nova, and individual spot effects accompany every Meteos launch. From simple beeps, to boings and scratches, to applause and cheers when large amounts of Meteos are sent back out of the planets atmosphere forever.
So there we have it. What do we have? We have a game that is short, sweet, and even a little sweaty. A game that starts off overwhelming, evolves to challenging, and soon becomes absorbing. It doesn't take long before you are clearing entire screens with strategies that you didn't even think about on first play. What seems like an extremely limited idea at first will slowly drip-feed you with depth and goodness, until you are addicted without even realising. Good game, Testuya Mizuguchi!
Community review by cheekylee (January 30, 2006)
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