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Meteos

Developer: Q Entertainment | Publisher: Nintendo
Players: 1 to 4 Player Game | Release Date: 06/28/05 | Genre: Puzzle

Since the dawn of Tetris, developers have produced tons falling-block games for every game system in an attempt to discover their own addictive formula. Q Entertainment is responsible for one of the most popular games on PSP, a unique puzzle game called Lumines. Just as it took advantage of the PSP's features, they now bring another puzzle game that's perfectly suited to the DS.

It not often that a puzzle game's story is of much consequence to the gameplay, but the plot of Meteos sets the context for all of the game's design and its different modes and variations. The game treats you to an FMV just after you turn it on. The quality of the computer-animated cutscenes is impressive, especially on the DS. Through it, we learn that the planet Meteo is ejecting tons of matter into space and it threatens other civilizations as the chunks of matter, or Meteos, collide with other planets. Hope is found when the people discover that if three Meteos of the same type line up, blast off back into space like a rocket.

The basic gameplay of Meteos is simple. Like most puzzle games, blocks continually fall into the playfield. It's the player's job to clear the blocks before they stack up to the top of the screen, or the game will be over. What makes Meteos so innovative is the way that you clear the blocks. Blocks of various colors fall randomly over the playing field. Using the stylus, you can drag the blocks up or down in a vertical column. You can't move them horizontally. When you make a horizontal or vertical line of three or more blocks, they form rocket boosters and blast off of the ground (or off of any other blocks they're sitting on). Any blocks above these rocket boosters are pushed up along with them. Blocks are not cleared until they fly off of the top of the screen. This is what makes Meteos so unique. There are few block-falling games that you would describe having a physics model, but Meteos is one of them. Depending on how many blocks are above the rocket boosters you created, the entire rocket may or may not make it off of the top of the screen. The blocks might fall back down if the stack is too heavy. In that case you would need to perform combos by matching up three more blocks in the same stack to ignite secondary rocket blasts that will hopefully get the stack flying again.

There are various ways to perform combos, and multiple ways to form rockets. If you lined up three identical blocks vertically, then you would only be pushing up one column of blocks at a time, and it would be much more likely to launch completely off of the screen. On the other hand, you could line up 3-5 blocks horizontally and attempt to launch a larger amount of blocks at once, but you'll have a harder time getting it off the top of the screen. By lining up additional sets of three within stacks that have already launched, you can provide additional blasts that will propel the stack higher. The catch is that each time line up some blocks to ignite a launch, they become burnt and turn grey. You can no longer use these blocks to create matches. You have a limited amount of time in which to create more combos if a failed rocket falls back to the ground. Otherwise, the grey, burnt blocks will turn back to normal blocks and you'll be left with a huge pile of blocks to contend with.

The presentation qualities of Meteos are excellent, and the interplanetary theme actually has some significant implications for the gameplay. The basic concept of the gameplay would be fun enough in itself, but its value is greatly expanded by the properties of the different planets each match takes place on. Each planet has a different level of gravity and air density which affects how easily it is to launch certain amount of blocks, how fast they'll fly upwards, and how quickly they'll fall back down to the ground. For instance, in one water planet, the blocks rise and fall slowly (as if you're playing underwater), giving you plenty of time to create combos. The planets have other important factors as well. Some have very wide playing fields, and others are narrower. On some planets, each additional combo provides a substantial boost, and ensures that you'll be able to launch a stack of almost any size. On other planets, secondary blasts do almost nothing, and you're better off launching smaller stacks at time at a fast pace rather then trying to create huge combos and launch many, many blocks at once. Different planets have different colors of blocks, and different mixes of them. So on one planet, you might be playing with just four different colors of blocks, with equal levels of each. On another planet, you might be playing with seven different colors, and one color might appear more commonly than the rest.

The different features of each planet are great because you have to adjust the way you play for each one, providing lots of variety. There are lots of nice aesthetic details too. Each planet has its own artwork and block designs, as well as music. Some tracks are actually kind of boring, but most of them are great, and the sheer variety is amazing. The developers put a lot of effort into creating a unique them for each planet. A gallery feature will even let you read a short description about each planet and its citizens.

There are also a lot of things to do and unlock for a puzzle game. There are several different game modes and each one gives you a unique way to play the game. There's the standard endless mode, which is called Deluge. Like any block-falling game, the goal is to play for as long as you can to achieve a high score. The longer you survive, the faster and faster the blocks fall until they become a nonstop rain of blocks. What makes it more fun is the challenge can be quite different for each planet, so every time that you unlock a new planet, you'll want to see what kind of high score you can get on that new stage. There are three variations on story mode that basically take you through a series of planets with the final stage being the planet Meteos. In these modes you always play against one to three computer opponents. The blocks you launch off of your screen are sent to one of your opponents, but all of your opponents are doing the same thing to you. Opponents are defeated when their playfields are overflowing with blocks. One of the modes assigns various tasks to complete so that in addition to defeating your computer opponents, you have to fulfill a certain condition in order to move on to the next stage. These tasks can be as simple as, "Win the match in under 2:00" or something a lot tougher like, "Launch 100 Meteos at once."

Unlocking things is another fun aspect of the game. All of the Meteos that you launch into space are actually stored and used as currency to unlock new planets, music, and items. Each colored block represents an element like water, air, fire, etc. So each item will require a certain amount of elements to unlock. So if you really want to unlock a certain planet, but you don't have enough units of plants for instance, then you can go play level that has a high incidence of green blocks to earn what you need.

Multiplayer is exactly like playing the computers, except that good players will use more varied strategies and could provide a much better challenge. Q Entertainment took advantage of all of the DS's wireless functions. You can play a multiplayer game with up to three other opponents with just one game card. You'll be limited to only a few planets, but if everyone has a copy of the game, you can play on any stage that's been unlocked. Another cool feature is the ability to send a single player demo to someone who doesn't have the game. When you play multiplayer games with other people, you also trade profiles (the name and greeting you stored into your Nintendo DS system) with them, which is a cool way to keep track of people you've played with. You can also unlock things after obtaining a certain amount of opponent profiles.

If you've ever played Super Smash Bros. then you might feel a bit of déjà vu as you navigate the menus for Meteos. That's because the same designer that worked on Smash Bros. also designed Meteos. That should also remind you of the similar statistics feature. Like Smash Bros., Meteos records dozens of stats that can be fun to check up on. Everything from your playtime, to the number of Meteos launched, to the number of multiplayer matches you've played is saved. It's just another fun aspect to Meteos's presentation that goes beyond actual block-falling game.

The core gameplay concept of Meteos would be a fun enough game in itself, but it's all of the extra features, and especially the gameplay variety of the different planetary attributes that push it over the top. This is one of the most innovative puzzle games I've seen in a long while. It's highly addictive and it's perfect for the DS. You can actually use the D-pad and A Button to play, but trust me when I say that it would be far too slow and frustrating. Touch Screen control feels so natural for this game, and the hectic pace and precision needed to keep up demand it. I really consider this a must have for any DS owner. I'm not some huge puzzle game fan either. I'm pretty picky about them and there's only a few that I've become attached to in all my years of game playing. So unless you really hate puzzle games, do yourself a favor and pick this one up. It will keep you occupied for a long time.

This article appeared in the August 2005 Issue of CVGames. You can view this Issue by clicking here.

By Andrew Thivyanathan - 08/20/05
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Screenshots for Meteos

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