From the creators of Lumines, Meteos proves that the DS is good for more than just mini-games.
Q Entertainment's puzzle game for DS isn't really very puzzling at all. In fact, it's more of an action game, despite looking much like Puyo Pop, Tetris Attack, and numerous other puzzle games. The difference is that the gameplay in Meteos proceeds so fast that you don't really have time to plan out big, complex moves…and even if you did, the game's design doesn't allow for such heavy thinking. No, playing Meteos involves putting together simple triplets of tiles, and you have to do it in rapid succession. So it's easier to understand Meteos as an action game, because it has to be played that way. It is undeniably addictive, and you'll likely get to the point that you see tiles blasting off even with your eyes closed, but this is not a game that will ever let you zone out and play on some other plane of consciousness. You have to be quick and alert at all times.
Even then, it takes a lot of play time before you'll get good enough to last longer than three minutes or so. Even an expert player will soon reach a point at which the game won't allow columns to reach the ceiling even for a second before declaring "game over". In Meteos, defeat comes quickly and often, no matter how good you are. That might make the game unsatisfying to play, except that even a terrible performance will yield tiles that can be used to unlock all kinds of stuff in the game's "merge" store. The constant accumulation of tiles, and the huge volume of things to buy, gives the game a strong collecting aspect that goes beyond the tiny scope of any particular gameplay session.
The main items to buy are new planets, which you can select before starting most of the game's modes. Each planet has its own physics and tile set, so not only do you get a new challenge that will teach you a new style of playing, but you also have a new source of tiles with which to buy more goodies at the store. Most planets only have a few of the game's ten colored tiles, and a new item's cost may call for a ton of one particular color, so eventually you learn to mix up the planets to get a balanced inventory of tiles, and then you can go to one particular planet if you need to stock up on a specific color. The physics, meanwhile, are sufficiently unique to each planet that the gameplay is dramatically affected. On one planet, the gravity may be light, but its effect slow, so that flicking up single tiles is an ineffective measure. On another planet, the gravity may be so powerful that you have to chain two explosions just to get a block headed upwards at all. On another, the gravity is so miniscule that blocks seem to disappear instantly when a triplet is formed, but there are so many different colors of tiles that it's hard to find three that match up. All of this variety lends Meteos a longevity that it would have otherwise sorely lacked.
Other modes stir up the formula even more, such as the timed mode that tests how many tiles you can clear within five minutes, or how quickly you can clear 1000 tiles (if you can even survive that long). Then there's Star Trip mode, which takes you through a sequence of planets that are set up like two-player battles against an A.I. opponent, eventually leading to a boss level and a neat, zoomed-out bonus level during the credits. Beating Star Trip can unlock certain items in the store, and it's also a great way to earn rare tile colors until you can buy the planets that will let you earn those colors more easily.
Meteos also packs a full-featured multiplayer mode, with multi-card and single-card download play (you can even send a single-player demo to a friend) and support for up to four players at a time. In this mode, your cleared tiles are sent as junk tiles to other players, and there are special items (bought in the store) that clear out swaths of tiles from your screen or do nasty things to your opponents.
Being from Q Entertainment, you'd expect Meteos to incorporate music into its gameplay, but that's not really the case. There are a ton of songs, some of them very cool and/or hypnotic, and depending on the planet, you'll hear sound effects when triplets are formed that blend into the music. The music also changes and speeds up as tiles pile up closer to the top of the screen. That's as far as it goes, though. There is no gameplay benefit to playing in rhythm or in "composing" interesting sounds through your playing style. Music fans should find something they like in the soundtrack though, and the game includes a sound test, although songs for it must be purchased at the store.
The last thing I have to mention is the game's control method. You can play Meteos with the D-pad and buttons, but this method is so slow as to be nearly useless. The only realistic option is to use the touch screen. Just drag tiles up or down to the desired location (you can't move tiles side to side, ever). At first, I had trouble putting the stylus on exactly the tile I wanted, but the problem went away with practice. You may have heard that it's possible to "cheat" by frantically dragging the stylus all over the screen. There is some truth to it, but it doesn't break the game. Basically, if you suck at the game, this "cheating" may let you last longer and clear more tiles than if you just played normally. Then again, it may not…depends greatly on luck and the planet's unique physics. More advanced players will usually be able to perform better by making discrete moves and using what strategy the game's pace allows for. The whole issue is roughly equivalent to the C-stick smash issue in Super Smash Bros. Melee. It may be bothersome to beginners and even intermediate players, but advanced skill will win out almost every time.
Hopefully this review has shed some light on the intricacies of what initially appears to be a shallow puzzle game in which there aren't really any puzzles at all. In actuality, Meteos is a highly original action game that takes quite a while to master, and it has tons of modes, multiplayer features, and unlockables to keep you playing until you do reach a level of mastery. Meteos can be played for just a few minutes at a time, but it's so addictive that sessions will often stretch out much longer, despite your best intentions. Highly recommended!
Meteos is due out in North America later this month, but you can order the Japanese version immediately from Lik-Sang. There's not much text to deal with, except in one part of Star Trip mode where you have to play according to special rules.