Review: Meteos Wars
You ain’t got no stylus, Dutch.
Xbox Live Arcade puzzle games are a prick to review, frankly. It’s always the same thing. Connect three or more of the same coloured blocks. If you’re lucky you get to unlock some stuff, enjoy a few game modes and maybe it’ll work okay online. It’ll either be far too difficult or just right (XBLA puzzlers are never easy it seems). Find a thousand words out of that.
Well, Meteos Wars might be a little easier to write about. For a start, it’s based on the Nintendo DS’ best game (in my opinion, which is right in this case). The original used the DS’ touch-screen to great effect as you connected the Meteos (little coloured blocks) or simply flicked them up to the top of the screen to get them out of the way for a second. A quick eye and a lot of co-ordination were needed to beat the story mode but the game was always fair and, like any top-drawer puzzler, was as addictive as Marcia Cross smothered in whipped cocaine.
Also, it’s by Q Entertainment. The clever chaps who made the godly Rez, as well as Lumines (which I just don’t get the appeal of at all) and Every Extend Extra Extreme (which is brilliant until you realise that you’ll have to commit suicide if the game is ever going to end). And after a few dismal weeks of Xbox Live Arcade releases, my hopes were reasonably high for this game. Apart from the big elephant in the room. You know, the one that doesn’t have a stylus.
Yeah, no touch screen controls. Well, they’ve done their best here. The left-stick (or d-pad *ack*) moves your cursor and the right-stick (or the X and A buttons) move the blocks up and down. It works quite well actually, although I’ve never been convinced by any analogue sticks when it comes to accurately moving a cursor (Super Puzzle Fighter was made a fair bit harder because of it). In fact it’d be quite passable, as long as Q make an adjustment to the speed of the game.
Unfortunately, the game whips along at the same speed as the DS version (or at least it feels that way) and, as a result, the whole thing is bollocksly hard. I mean, really fucking hard. In fact, think of ‘Easy’ mode as being ‘Hard’, ‘Medium’ as ‘Insane’ and ‘Hard’ as ‘Fuck Off I’m Impossible’ and you’ll have a fairer picture of how unforgiving this game is. Not only are the controls not considered at all but the AI is Cyberdyne levels of cunty, dropping combo after combo on you and scuppering your best attacks by sending them back to you with a note saying ‘return to loser’ attached.
Meteos’ (and Meteos Wars’) twist on the gameplay is that when you connect three, or more, blocks they are burned and become launch pads for the blocks above them. As they rise, relatively slowly, up the screen, connecting more blocks above them will send the whole lot up into space and right onto your enemy. Clever use of combos will allow you to fire off an entire screenful of blocks. Also, these connections raise up your ‘Planet Impact’ bar and allow you to directly attack your opponent by removing lines of blocks (thus scuppering his combos) however this, more than often, seems to actually aid them. I’ve often had my bacon saved by a line being cleared by the opponent.
The original Meteos game had a range of attacks that seemed more potent and combined with the unforgiving nature of this game it feels like you may as well ignore the attacks and just try to survive for a few seconds longer. Thankfully, the competitive modes aren’t all this game has to offer as there are also one minute and hundred block score attack modes and a survival mode which has you playing against a rapidly increasing flood of blocks. With no AI to scupper your efforts, these are far more fun to play than the game’s Story mode and are the reason I’m not panning the fuck out of this game.
This game is exceptionally difficult, to an extent that the first four games I had I lost without me ever fully knowing why. Once you get your head around the speed of the game then it does start to make sense and you do start to have a bit more success. The speed of the game helps it along as it’s very easy to keep playing for long periods of time, each go only lasts a couple minutes and it manages to keep drawing you back with the one more go mentality. However there is a big problem at the heart of the game and that’s the controls.
The loss of the stylus input from the DS version hampers this game and makes it much more difficult to play. It constantly feels like a fight to get your cursor over to the position it needs to be in, and this comes close to breaking the game. A lot of time has clearly been spent on fixing this problem with the sensitivity being adjustable in the options, but the fact remains the control scheme isn’t as good as it needs to be.
Once you realise this fact you start to notice other niggly bits like the harsh AI and the pointless story elements and it’s at this point you start to resent the game. It’s not a totally broken game, but there are better puzzlers out there.
Secondary Score: 5/10
In the original game, the blocks you launched were counted and could be used to buy more planets (for the attack modes) as well as music, sound effects and weapons. Unfortunately, they’ve done away with that in this game but progressing through the levels does at least unlock planets automatically as well as accessories for your character. These only amount to a sort of badge thing that your character wears on its head. But it’s something I guess. There’s an achievement for unlocking ten and twenty of them but past that I doubt you’ll be arsed about it.
In fact, whilst we’re on the subject of stuff that isn’t in the game that used to be there is no longer a playable stage in the end credits (a massive pisser as this was used in the DS version to allow you to collect rarer Meteos) and the four-player multiplayer mode is now down to two. Also, most matches online are utterly fucked with lag. Your best bet is to try to stick to private matches with people on your friendlist that have reasonable connections. Also, the main leaderboard is based on online victories rather than something worthwhile, like your score attack on the first planet for example. Silly.
It’s not all bad news though as the original’s quirky charm is still in place with some lovely visuals (although some of the block sets are hard to differentiate on certain planets) and great music. It’s certainly a lot more polished than most puzzlers on the system and feels like a quality game and if you’ve got the dexterity to play it (and maybe if you’ve not been exposed to the DS version) this is probably a game worth getting.
Despite it’s occasionally hateful difficulty spikes and reduced content compared to the DS version, Meteos Wars is still a quality game. It doesn’t fit XBLA that comfortably and will probably make you sob like a baby but it’s worth the asking price… just about (mainly because the ‘Attack’ modes are addictive and a lot of fun). If Q start charging for DLC, like they did with Lumines, the experience could be soured further but for now, this is worth getting if you like your puzzlers.