It’s never pleasant watching someone you admire sell out. Be it a band, sports personality or comedian, many of our heroes fall victim to the irresistible allure of cold, hard cash. Sadly it would appear that our video gaming idols are just as guilty. Step up, Meteos: Disney Magic.
The original Meteos was one of the first games to really showcase what kind of unique experiences were possible on the Nintendo DS. The innovative touch screen gameplay was a revelation and the game went on to sell a modest number of copies and win over some very sceptical gamers at the same time. Developing a sequel must have been an extremely daunting prospect for developers Q Entertainment – Meteos is about as near-perfect a gaming concept as you could possibly wish for – but they’ve done it regardless and at the same time they’ve have managed to improve things in a number of ways.
Firstly, the DS is now rotated 90 degrees in order to play (think ‘Brain Training’) giving a better view of proceedings. Secondly the player is now able to drag blocks horizontally as well as vertically. The vertical restriction found in the first title caused many potential fans to lose heart so this change will be especially welcome to those who found things too difficult before. If you’re a hardcore Meteos player then it takes a little getting used to, but within the space of a few plays it begins to feel perfectly natural and before long you’ll start to effortlessly expand your playing style to accommodate the new found freedom of movement. The core game remains the same, with the aim being to link tree or more blocks of the same colour in order to detonate them skywards and off the top of the playing area. As was the case in the original, each stage has its own level of gravity which either helps or hinders your progress. On some stages, a jettisoned mass of blocks may require additional lift whilst in mid-air and when things get especially tense it’s not unusual to find yourself juggling several groups of airborne blocks at once.
Other minor additions to Meteos: Disney Magic include special powers, such as the ability to slow down the falling blocks or give them a nitro boost for a limited period, making it easier to fire them off the top of the screen. ‘One shot’ blocks are also present – these can change the colour of blocks on-screen or allow you to fire a stubborn cluster skyward. These changes may only be slight tinkerings with the core concept but they’re wholly successful and really add to what is an already excellent experience.
What isn’t so welcome is the aforementioned Disney branding. When done well, Disney-licensed games can be eminently enjoyable – just spend a few hours in the company of the sublime Mickey Mouse: Castle of Illusion on the Megadrive for proof of that – but it’s hard to view Meteos: Disney Magic as anything more than a cynical attempt to gain the pocket money of hyperactive kiddies worldwide. All the usual suspects are here, including Woody, Buzz, Simba, Ariel and Cinderella. Each level has a different theme but the clumsy amalgamation of styles results in a product that never gels convincingly. The design of the original Meteos was so clean and unique it seems like a crime to discard it in favour of Walt’s po-faced creations, which ironically aren’t anywhere near as endearing or affable as the largely abstract aliens of the original game.
Regardless of this, Meteos: Disney Magic still represents a fine addition to the DS library. It’s difficult to say if it actually improves on the first title – it’s more of a ‘Meteos 1.5’ than a fully-blown sequel. If you cherished the first game and yearn for more of the same then you certainly could do a lot worse – hardcore fans will best appreciate the slight modifications that have been introduced by the developer. It’s disappointing that Q Entertainment haven’t including online multiplayer but the options available here are still impressive – provided you don’t mind keeping human opponents close at hand.
If you’ve never experienced Meteos before (and given the relative early release of the first game it’s entirely likely that many new DS owners are unaware it even exists) then you should pick this up at the earliest opportunity. Playing it might be slightly embarrassing thanks to the insidious branding, but it ranks as one of the best puzzle games money can buy.