METEOS / Nintendo / Nintendo DS

The "shit keeps falling" Tetris-clone genre was done to death over ten years ago. Except for occasional colorful and inventive variants like Puyo Puyo, Magical Drop 3 and Super Puzzle Fighter 2 Turbo, most releases in this genre were completely unnecessary and really just serve to clutter up the bargain bins of video game stores. Meteos has the colorful presentation and the inventiveness to break through the stagnation, but unfortunately the gameplay just doesn't measure up.

The whole look and feel of the game is oddly reminiscent of Star Fox, of all things. You're rescuing cute aliens in outer space from some sort of evil invading meteor block things, to the tune of a dramatic John Williams-esque symphonic score. There's definitely a little more life and pulse than the average Popcap-style puzzle clone, but once you actually get into the game it's a whole different story.

So, blocks fall from the top of the screen, and they come down really fast. You have to rejigger the piles of blocks that have already fallen to form horizontal lines of three, but you can only move blocks vertically (by selecting one and dragging it up or down the column with the stylus). When you line up three blocks, the blocks above and around it ignite and "blast off" towards the top of the screen. Anything that goes above the top border of the screen is cleared away, and as the remaining pile slowly descends back to the playfield you can give it an added boost by lining up another three blocks to send the whole thing rocketing off the screen. You just keep trying to knock as many blocks off the top of the screen as you can, without letting the pile grow so that it stretches from top to bottom in any one column.

The problem with the gameplay is that quite often you have to just sit there, with no possible blocks to line up, and wait for some more to fall. But the game is exceedingly random, and quite often you won't get any possible combinations for a long time, leaving you just sitting there idly watching your blocks pile up to dangerous levels. When the blocks have piled up to extreme proportions, however, you can usually just start waving the stylus around the screen wildly and hithertofore obscured combos will randomly come together and easily complete the level for you. The challenge level is goofy and all over the map, and surviving the more difficult levels usually just requires random and frantic waving. It's like the puzzle game equivalent of button-mashing.

Meteos just doesn't work for me. I'd imagine a more "casual" gamer who hasn't already seen two decades of these types of games might be more charmed by the presentation and thus willing to overlook the gameplay flaws. So it could work as a gift for Grandma or your less "hardcore" counterparts, but if you're experienced with Tetris clones I doubt this one is going to rivet your attention.

Videos :

* Gameplay Video
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