proved a system's worth with the original Game Boy edition, creating one of the finest pick-up-and-play designs of our generation. And with all the attempts to produce "the next Tetris" it's a trend that's apparently not coming to an end anytime soon. Q Entertainment, a recently formed Japanese development house, has already been wowing handheld gamers with its first published title, Lumines,
a fantastic and trippy take on the Tetris-line gameplay on the PlayStation Portable. The studio's got plenty more up its sleeve as its second game, Meteos
is just as brilliant a puzzle game, this time exploiting the touch screen function of the Nintendo DS to produce a fast, frantic, and fun challenge that has a ton of replayability.
Unlike most falling piece puzzle games, Meteos is a game that can't be considered a Tetris clone, nor does it feel derived from any other non-Tetris titles on the market. It's in a unique position to really be considered something new and original in the puzzle genre. It begins with a familiar theme, in this case individual falling tiles and the task of maneuvering said tiles to match colors together. But unlike most games where the tiles simply disappear, in Meteos, matched tiles become useable rockets that blast the stack above them up out of the bin. By linking combos together, you can strengthen the blast of the rockets or even widen their support to lift even more tiles up out of the bin. Tiles that make it off the screen will either be tossed into the blackness of space, or, in challenge and multiplayer mode, used as ammunition against other players trying to defend their own bins.
It requires the pin-point precision and quick motion of the player's hand to properly select tiles and drag them up and down their specific columns, and this particular game mechanic sets Meteos apart from other puzzle games. Meteos definitely has the Nintendo DS system's touch screen to thank for the game's creation, because without it this game wouldn't have been possible
or any fun. And to prove this fact, the designers offer the ability to play Meteos using the D-pad, and it's clear that it's only here to show folks just how impossible it would be to play this fast-paced game without the stylus. Because of the required precision and the overall maniacal pace of the game design, Meteos isn't a game that you can zone out with like in Tetris or Lumines. But that doesn't make the game any less fun to play.
Specific power-ups come into play that will both help and hinder players or opponents. A gigantic hammer, for example, can come smashing into your bin thanks to an enemy player, which can remove tiles from play with a few swings of the weapon. Sounds helpful right? Not if you're trying to set up your combination, since disappearing tiles can be the difference between getting rid of a huge chunk of Meteos pieces, and having your bin overwhelmed by an enemy's dummy pieces.
What makes Meteos such a unique experience is its attention to detail within a self-contained world. Many developers have made the attempt to produce a universe and storyline to drive the reasoning behind that company's puzzle design; Puyo Pop Fever is a great example of personalized flair gone horribly wrong for a design that didn't need it. Meteos on the other hand seamlessly incorporates an overall theme with its game design; the Meteos pieces are threatening to destroy a specific planetary world, which requires the player to work fast to save the planet by launching them back into space. Each world has its own characteristics and offers a different take on the overall theme; individual planets have their own alien race, their own Meteos styles and variety, their own unique gravity effects, and their own visual and audio style. It's one of the first times where the story, situation, and environments really mesh well within a puzzle game design.The developers also work a lot of different gameplay modes to bump up the game's variety. On top of the standard "endless" mode are options that require competing against one, two or three computer opponents, simulating the multiplayer option with computer AI drones. Another feature requires players to perform a set task within the competition, such as defeating a computer opponent in a set amount of time, or launching X number of tiles before winning. Every gameplay mode within Meteos has its own charm, and not a single one feels thrown in "just because."
The game's production has this uncanny Super Smash Bros. feeling, which can be attributed to the designer of Meteos, Masahiro Sakurai, who was also responsible for the original N64 fighter during his days at Hal. Meteos is the designer's first puzzle game, but it features the same attention to interface to Smash Bros., infusing a whole lot of charm in everything from the menu selection to statistics tracking. The game design keeps watch on odd stats such as time played or how many times you've powered on the system that will reward player with little extra treats. Every single Meteos tile removed from play is stored in a virtual bank, and with these cached tiles players can purchase even more extras. And like Lumines and its unlockable songs and skins, Meteos keeps the player's interest with dozens of different worlds, aliens, and sounds unlockable through extended and successful play sessions.
Meteos has been designed from the ground up as a multiplayer competitive puzzle game, which is why it's no surprise that the Nintendo local networking capabilities have been exploited to their fullest in the production. Owners of the Meteos cartridge can compete against each other, using their own unique profile and unlockable features. But for those without a copy of the game, the host system can send a demo version to cartridge-free systems and give them access to the four-player mayhem in a bit more limited, but still incredibly fun, functionality. Statistics aren't tracked in single-cartridge mode, so the better option is to get involved in multi-cart Meteos play to score the specific multiplayer unlockables.
The multiplayer function plays identically to the single player versions, with the only difference being that your opponents are now unpredictable humans with their own behavior. Meteos you send off-screen can be sent to any player within the network with a single tap on the smaller version of their playfield, but evil players can gang up on a single person and select you as their Meteos dumping grounds. Multiplayer can get absolutely vicious
but in an incredibly fun kind of way.
Meteos admittedly does have a bit of "randomness" to the design, more so than other puzzle games. Falling pieces can sometimes form a combo by itself, and many times players will find themselves with their bin empty simply because a meteos piece fell in the right place at the right time without any interaction. The game's touch screen design also does make it a little easy to recover in last-ditch efforts simply by "scribbling" the stylus up and down from left to right and back again. But because the game rewards with skillful play over random scribbling, it's a technique that won't work in the harder missions.
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