Meteos in its most basic form is a puzzle game, much like Bejeweled or Zoo Keeper, developed by Masahiro Sakurai, the man behind Super Smash Brothers and Q Entertainment, the company that also brought us the digital crack for the Sony PSP known as Lumines.
The object of the game is simple enough: Line up three matching blocks, called Meteos, either vertically or horizontally to send bricks shooting up from the touch screen to the opponent on the top screen (CPU or human). The entire time, blocks are falling down towards you from them. It’s basically the same gameplay seen in games ever since Tetris and Columns, although the addition of launching the sets of blocks at your opponent is somewhat different. Throw in special blocks with different powers and it makes for a rather intense gaming session.
This, of course, brings us to the obvious question, can lighting strike twice? Can Q Entertainment bring it like they brought it with Lumines on the PSP and give Nintendo their long-awaited killer app for the Nintendo DS? Or would it be just another lame puzzle game wanting to be the next Tetris, akin to Polarium?
We know that the DS can bring the graphics, the question is, how does Meteos make use of the relative power of the Nintendo DS, especially considering it’s a puzzle game?
The answer is quite well indeed. Unlike Lumines, where graphics and sound were almost the entire point of the game, in Meteos it’s the gameplay. That’s not to say that the graphics are bad by any means. Each planet has different-colored and styled Meteos, and each of them move at a different rate of speed depending upon the planet you’re fighting on as well (some planets have heavier or lighter gravity, for example). The colors are bright and easy to see on the DS’s touch screen unless you’re under heavy light conditions, which is nothing new, as this is a hardware issue, not software. Each planet has its own avatar, and each one is brightly colored and filled with lively animation.
While playing, the top screen shows the planets that you’re fighting against and even shows the Meteos flying to and from your screen and even between the planets, as well as a shifting starfield. There’s a lot of movement going on both screens, and in fact there’s so much movement with the playing that it’s sometimes not really possible to look at the top screen at all.
Again, unlike Lumines, the music isn’t the cornerstone of the game. But again, Q Entertainment didn’t skimp on the quality or quantity of both music and general sound effects. Each planet has its own variety of songs and sounds that go along with it, all in a general theme to fit the planet’s personality. This means that each level that you play, or each planet you play on has a different set of tunes and sound effects to work with so you won’t be hearing the same thing all the time. The music and sounds both come across quite well on the DS’s speakers, although using earplugs can give slightly better quality sound.
Again, though, with the frantic gameplay, the music can be easily tuned out as you concentrate on getting those Meteos off your screen as quick as you can before they end up burying you. Not a bad thing by any means, though, especially with the ability to unlock sound sets and listen to them on their own.
There are two ways to control Meteos. The first, of course, is with the touch screen using either your finger or the stylus. To be honest though, the stylus is easily the best choice as you get some great pinpoint control of what Meteos you’re selecting and where you’re moving them to. With a finger, it’s harder to control exactly what you’re moving.
The other option is to use the buttons of the DS, much like you’d use them playing Tetris or a similar puzzle game. The directional buttons move your spot on the game field, the A button swaps the two Meteos that are highlighted and the L and R trigger buttons speed up the falling Meteos. Honestly, though, using the stylus is much faster and more intuitive than using the buttons, which feel clunky and slow by comparison.
This is a good thing, of course, because one thing the DS has lacked has been games which used the touchscreen in new and inventive ways, and making the touchscreen easy to use helps a long way in this regard.
With the gameplay being basically the same thing that we’ve seen ever since Tetris (over fifteen years ago), you’d think that there’d be nothing new. You’d be wrong, of course, as Meteos’ gameplay is nothing short of stellar. Each stage has different rules, with some planets launching slower than others, some planets not letting horizontal or verticle launches happen, different gravity fields…there’s a lot of variety. Then, also, each planet has a different set of Meteos that it has. Given that there are twelve different ‘elements’ of Meteos to choose from, some will have only a few types or a lot of one particular type while others will have a larger variety to work with.
Make no mistake, also, this game is dangerously addictive, just like Lumines before it. In this respect, Meteos may well be the Tetris of the DS. If Nintendo were to pack Meteos in with the DS, they’d probably sell a huge quanity of the things, especially considering the fact that you can allow another DS user to download a demo of the game direct from your DS!
Speaking of types of gameplay, there are a variety. For single player usage, there’s four different modes. The first is called Simple. Simple is basically that. You set your rules (Time-based and Life-Based) including the length or number of lives allowed, the difficulty (one through five stars), the level of the CPU opponent (also one through five stars) and the team that you’re on (red, blue, yellow and green). Also, you can add up to three CPU opponets and choose the planet that they are based on the planets you’ve unlocked so far in the game.
Next is Star Trip, which is more of a story mode game. In it you have five difficulty levels and three different types of games. Straight is exactly that, a straight line path from beginning to end. Next is Branch, which allows you to open split paths each time you defeat one planet, giving a bit more random feel to what planets are out there and Multi, where you clear missions to open new paths through the planets. At the end of each path is still the main bad guy, the planet Meteos.
Time War is exactly what it sounds: make the highest score possible in the time allowed. There’s a two minute and five minute version, as well as ones where you try to launch 100 or 1000 Meteos in the fastest time possible.
Finally is Deluge, which again is exactly as it sounds: Meteos will continue to fall from the sky and you will continue to try to launch them away until you eventually lose. This mode gets points for getting extremely fast and furious within a few minutes of starting. The difficulty in Deluge mode is not for the faint of heart, but it’s still a lot of fun while you’re desperately trying to stay alive. Note: Quickly scribbling with the stylus will not help you win….just keep you from dying that little bit longer.
Beyond that is the multiplayer modes. First is a standard versus mode where up to four players, all with a Meteos card in their DS, can play against each other. The second version is DS Download, where you have Meteos and up to three other players can connect to you via wireless connection to play against each other. This version isn’t as full-featured as the standard versus mode, however.
Finally, it’s possible to send a demo of Meteos from your DS to another DS, so that someone else can find out what the fuss is about (much like was offered at E3 this year in the Nintendo area).
Where to begin? First off is the main way to unlock everything in the game: Fusion mode. As you play the game, every Meteos you launch into space is cataloged by the game. Once you go into Fusion mode it gives you the option of Planets, Items, Rare Metals and Sounds. Pressing any of these will take you to another screen that shows you the Meteos you have earned in each type on the top screen while on the bottom is a list of what you can possibly unlock given what and how many Meteos you have available. If you choose to fuse one of the items on the touch screen, it will remove those Meteos and unlock whatever you chose. With 32 planets, only a few of which are available to begin with, there’s a lot of planets, sounds, items and rare metals to unlock. Some of the best items, though, require those rare metals to fuse.
Once you’ve fused everything you can, you can go into the Extras screen where your Sounds, Stats and the aforementioned Demo Download are located. Sounds are exactly what it seems, with the option to change which set of sounds you’re in, which sound you’re listening to and play and stop functions.
Going into Stats gives you something almost as good as what Halo 2 players got when they played online. The game keeps track of a huge amount of information, including the first time you powered on the game, the total number of power ons, the total time you spent powered on, the total play time, how many of each type of game you’ve played and the total amount of time for each, how many endings you’ve seen (there are numerous), how many Meteos and items you’ve launched, the number of ignitions and how many Meteos you’e incinerated in them.
Under Options from the main screen you’re giving the ability to choose which planet you call home (and this is where planets you unlock will show up), the ability to balance sound versus music, the option to play either left or right handed with the stylus, and the ability to choose not only what items you want to see during your game play (and this is where the items you unlock are shown), but how often you want to see them (from Never through Low, Medium and High frequencies).
Needless to say, there’s a lot of game here to play and countless hours to devote to that gameplay.