Meteos Import Hands-On

We try out Masahiro Sakurai and Tetsuya Mizuguchi's awesome DS puzzler.

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Meteos will likely be one of the most pleasant surprises in the Nintendo DS's software library to come along in quite some time. The seemingly simple puzzler has garnered a healthy share of attention due to its development. The game from developer Q Entertainment is the result of a collaboration between Masahiro Sakurai, a former member of HAL Laboratories (whose resume includes the Kirby and Super Smash Bros. games), and Tetsuya Mizuguchi, former studio head of Sega's United Game Artists (whose resume includes Sega Rally, Space Channel 5, Rez, and, most recently, Lumines for the PSP). The pairing of two seasoned vets obviously sets expectations higher than normal for a puzzle game, so you can imagine that we went in hoping to be wowed when we got our hands on a final retail version of the game, which was just released in Japan. While we've just scratched the surface of the rich game and will be clocking in much time with it this weekend, we have to say it makes a winning first impression, which obviously bodes well.

The game's concept is as simple as it gets: You'll need to clear a screen that continually fills with multicolored blocks by grouping them into like-colored clumps. However, the specific mechanics pretty much upend any preconceived notions you may have of this being some kind of Tetris clone. For starters, Meteos is framed by a dramatic tale of survival that revolves around multicolored stick people who live on different themed planets in the universe. It seems the slim aliens are beset by falling multicolored meteorites that must be stopped! Fortunately, the ETs make the serendipitous discovery that grouping the rocks together creates a propulsive blast that sends the offending rocks back from whence they came.

The narrative folds perfectly into the gameplay, as the main playfield you'll interact with is the DS's touch screen. You'll see animated reps from the planet you're currently attempting to keep rock-free racing about the upper screen while simultaneously milling about in time to the different musical themes that are tied to that particular world. Multicolored blocks will fall from the sky and begin to add up, filling the screen to capacity. To make some space, you'll have to line three or more like-colored blocks in a row. The resulting line will then turn into miniature rock boosters, which will shove everything above them into the sky and off the top of the second screen, effectively erasing them from the playfield. While it sounds simple, there's a bit of strategy to it, as you'll have to take into account momentum and moving the colored blocks around. The head-scratching challenge is that you can only move the colored blocks up and down, forcing you to be strategic (and perhaps lucky). You're helped a bit by different items that can be used to assist you in your task, but it's mainly all on you and your brain, though. The gameplay takes a bit of getting used to, but once you've got it down, you'll find Meteos has a pretty insane combo system that will yield some crazy results...especially if you're good.

So far we've messed around with a basic challenge mode that lets you choose one of four planets in your bid to survive an onslaught of blocks. Another appears to be a Soul Calibur weapon master-esque challenge mode that sends you to a series of planets and tasks you with liberating them. There also appears to be some unlockable content, as well as a multiplayer mode for up to four players over Wi-Fi.

Meteos' gameplay was inspired by Kiefer Sutherland's thriller '24.' True story.
Meteos' gameplay was inspired by Kiefer Sutherland's thriller '24.' True story.

One of the key aspects of Meteos' appeal is its presentation. The visuals sport the slick style that Miziguchi's games are known for, and the graphics are simple but feature interesting design and animation. You'll really be surprised by how much personality is packed in Meteo's minimalist line drawings. The audio is awesome, with a rich mix of retro sound effects and a varied soundtrack that covers a variety of different genres. The tunes don't seem to have the richness presented in Lumines' soundtrack, but they're catchy and seem to offer a good fit for the action.

Based on what we've played so far, Meteos is a game you're going to want to get for your DS. Yes, there's a fair share of puzzlers out there for the system, but Meteos has a winning charm and addictive gameplay you shouldn't miss. Unfortunately, there are two bits of bad news we have to share. First, Meteos has no US publisher at this time. Second, it doesn't feature much English text, which makes it a challenge when navigating through menus. However, neither of these points should stop you from importing the game if you're interested in it. Meteos is fun and stylish, which makes it a great DS title. Hopefully some US third party (or Nintendo itself) will pick this gem up for US release.

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