Meteos Wars is the Xbox LIVE Arcade version of Meteos, the stupendous 2005 DS puzzle game so good that it warranted a 9/10 in our review. We loved it primarily because the controls were perfectly optimised for play with the touch screen. As blocks fell from the top of the screen you were able to use the stylus to create rows of three or more of the same colour, which then turned into thrusters propelling the blocks above them up the screen. The first player to have a block touch the top of the screen loses. Meteos Wars follows almost exactly the same format sans the stylus.
Instead, you have to use either the left thumb stick or the d-pad to painstakingly move your a cursor through the blocks one by one, then press the A button to cycle them upwards or the X button to cycle them down. It's immediately apparent that this is a slower, far less intuitive way of playing the game. The question is, does it make Meteos Wars a poor game?
Before we answer that question let's back up and explain to Meteos newcomers what the Q Entertainment title is all about. The aim is to create rows of three or more blocks of the same colour, which turn into thrusters and carry the blocks above them up the screen. The catch, however, is that you can't move blocks left to right from column to column, only up and down the same column, AND, the rows of matching blocks can only be oriented vertically or horizontally.
The strategy comes from having to shift focus on making horizontal rows and vertical rows, and knowing what's best in a given situation. Vertical rows are easier to form, but shift less blocks. Horizontal rows shifts more blocks, but they weigh more, which means the thrusters are going to have a harder job clearing them completely and preventing them from slowly falling back down.
That there are a number of planets to chose from, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, adds even more depth to the gameplay. Gravity, for example, affects the ease with which thrusters will clear blocks from the screen. If you're using a planet with high gravity, you might want to focus on making vertical rows, since horizontal thrusters are going to have a more difficult time shifting blocks. Discovering what tactics work best with each planet is all part of the fun.
This being a Q Entertainment game, the Japanese developer founded by Tetsuya Mizuguchi, the brains behind some of the finest puzzle/shooter games of recent times, including Lumines and Every Extend Extra, it's no surprise to find the gameplay wonderfully complimented by an electro soundtrack that wouldn't be out of place banging from the speakers of some trendy East End club. When you form rows of blocks they turn into thrusters to the tune of some killer sounds, all designed to fit in with the playing tune. When you're in the zone, you've got your sound system turned up and you're busting combos left right and centre, it's impossible to prevent your heart going into overdrive.
So, Meteos is a great puzzle game concept in classic Q Entertainment fashion, one that's right up there with the best the genre has to offer, but the question posed at the top of the review remains. Does the control scheme make Meteos Wars a poor game? The answer is unequivocally, no.
Taken on its own merits, Meteos Wars is well worth the 800 MS Points it costs to send the game spiralling through the virtual pipe that runs from Microsoft HQ to your Xbox 360. It comes with a local multiplayer mode (if you've got a friend partial to the odd puzzle-tastic gaming session, the versus mode is wicked fun over a few beers), online matchmaking (there's lots of lag and you might struggle to find an opponent), online leaderboards (criminally not displayed when you first start the game - has Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 taught you nothing?), Achievements, a pointless alien accessory function, three single-player modes and over 20 planets, each with its own alien race, Meteos blocks, unique gravity effects and visual and audio style. There's a new "Planet Impact" special attack feature, too, which is essentially four different types of bombs that can be used to send havoc spiralling towards your hapless opponent. And, of course, fancy, bloodshot eye-inducing HD graphics. But, despite the fact that the bone is considerably meatier this time around, it's not a better quality cut. If you've played and loved Meteos on the DS, you will find the control scheme frustrating, simply because you know better. If you're coming to Meteos Wars green, however, you'll find it perfectly adequate because you don't know any better.
Given that we do know better, we can safely say that Meteos Wars isn't as good as its dual screen brother, but don't take that to mean you should cast the thought of forking out your hard-earned MS Points aside. If you've already got Meteos there's little here to justify a punt, and, personally, I prefer 2007's Tetris Splash, but if you don't have the game on DS, the core gameplay sounds like your cup of tea, and you like good music, you won't be disappointed.