Publisher: Q Entertainment
Developer: Q Entertainment
Release Date: December 10, 2008
Puzzle games are a dime a dozen on Xbox Live Arcade, so if you're going to stand out from the pack, you need some sort of gimmick that sets you apart from every other "match three-of-a-kind, clear the columns" title. In that spirit comes Meteos Wars, a remake of the 2005 DS hit that takes the idea of dropping tiles and turns it on its head by throwing in a healthy dose of rockets. While the game wishes it could reach interstellar heights, something went wrong along the way, and sadly, it never makes it out of the atmosphere before sputtering and crashing back down.
The gameplay behind Meteos Wars is exceptionally unique, and the mechanics are just as enjoyable now as when they first appeared a few years back. As you play, small blocks (the title's marquee "Meteos") rain down from the sky and attempt to fill up your play space. By matching at least three of the same block, you start a reaction that causes a small rocket boost to push the Meteos up toward the top of the screen, hopefully out of the playing area entirely. However, a number of factors, such as the weight of the blocks on top of the rockets and the gravity of the planet you're playing on, all factor into whether or not your makeshift launchpad will ever get off-screen. In a fun twist, though, you can still manipulate blocks on the platforms as they slowly descend, causing secondary and tertiary explosions that can give you the little extra "oomph" necessary to get rid of the blocks once and for all. All the while, your opponent is setting off his own chain reactions, and you will continually shower one another with discarded Meteos until someone just can't keep up anymore. The action is frantic and fun, and matches are normally balanced well enough that you never feel cheated out of a win or stuck at a permanent disadvantage.
Meteos Wars features a few solo modes, though none of them manage to keep their appeal for a particularly long time. There's a simple versus mode where you can pick your planet and take on the computer, as well as a short mission mode and a series of challenges. The missions are comprised of you running through a set number of stages on one of three difficulty settings, with the experience culminating in a showdown on the planet Meteos. It's a fun mode for a short distraction, but the whole experience lasts less than an hour so there isn't a lot of staying power.
The challenges are even more of a quick dose experience, particularly because there are only three of them and each one rarely lasts more than two minutes. There is a one-minute game where you try and attain the highest score possible in 60 seconds, a "100 Meteos" event where you must clear 100 blocks off the screen as quickly as possible, and a survival mode where you just keep on playing until you can't keep up with the falling blocks anymore. Each is fun for a while, and you can go through the challenges again and again to set new records for each planet, but aside from bettering your own records, there's little reason to stick around for long. Perhaps if the game included some sort of online leaderboard for each challenge, there would be more incentive to replay them again and again, but the current setup just doesn't inspire a whole lot of return trips.
On the topic of online features, it is Meteos Wars' online multiplayer (or lack thereof) that hurts the game the most. While worldwide play over Xbox Live is available, good luck finding a game worth playing. The lobbies are utterly barren, causing lots of long waits; and if do happen to get lucky enough to score a game against a human opponent, the lag will likely be so terrible that you won't even want to finish it. The whole allure of Meteos is that it's a franchise that is best played in fierce competition against another person. Sure, the title has local multiplayer, so if you can get your friends to come over and play, that's fine, but if you want to challenge them online, then you're pretty much out of luck.
The other major issue with the game is one that was pretty much unavoidable when making the jump from handhelds to a console. In the DS original, all movement was handled via the touch-screen, so you could just tap your Meteos and then drag it to wherever you wanted to place it. This meant that gamers could quickly zip around the screen and juggle the ever-growing columns will almost no trouble. Things are different in the console version, as the transition to a controller means that the action is a little less precise than before. While Q Entertainment has done a good job with a simple control scheme (left stick moves the cursor, right stick slides blocks up and down the column), it still feels terribly restrictive when compared to its handheld predecessor. If you've never played the DS version, then you likely won't even know what you're missing, but those who have will quickly find themselves wishing they had a nice big stylus for use on the TV screen.
Meteos Wars comes in a nice-looking package (the HD visuals are very impressive and the soundtrack is another Q Entertainment masterpiece), but behind those pretty eyes hides a shallow and fairly unimpressive experience. The single-player games are good for a quick puzzle fix, but it would have been nice to see a longer mission mode with more story, or perhaps even a series of puzzle challenges similar to what one would find in Lumines. Furthermore, multiplayer should really be this game's strongest selling point, but the online play is so weak that most people who buy the title will likely give up trying to play over Xbox Live before they even manage to find, much less finish, an entire game.
It's too bad that the console debut of the Meteos franchise falls so flat because the original DS version was a breath of fresh air in a genre that goes stale pretty easily. The story line, gameplay and multiplayer were so good that you can still find the game in DS libraries several years after the title's release. The lesson here is that if you own a DS, you're far better off buying the original than you are settling for this new port that comes in high on style but low on substance. However, if you've never played Meteos and don't own a DS, then it might be worth your time to at least download the trial and give Meteos Wars a go. If you don't mind its shallow nature, you might just find a cute, quirky and innovative puzzler that fills a niche in your gaming habits. Meteos Wars may not blast into the outer reaches of the solar system, but it definitely doesn't explode during ignition either.