Meteos: Disney Magic

Meteos is the best puzzle game available on the DS. This is a bold claim considering the number of quality titles in the DS library, but anyone who has managed to find a copy can attest to its brilliance. Certainly, at its core Meteos is another game about blocks falling from the top of the screen, but it's far more interactive than Tetris and much more frantic than Bejeweled. It's also about to get a new release in the form of a Disney-themed update, so here's the lowdown on what we know so far.

For those of you who haven't played the original, Meteos is all about fighting gravity. Connecting a line of three blocks vertically or horizontally causes them to ignite, launching the stack above them into the air. Depending on the gravitational pull of the current planet, one ignition can be enough to put things into orbit while in other cases it may barely get things off the ground. That's pretty much it for the controls, there are items that enter into play occasionally, but the majority of the depth comes from learning to juggle huge stacks of meteos, keeping them in the air just long enough to push them out of the planet's atmosphere.

While the original had dozens of worlds, each with unique artwork, music, and physics, the update takes a cue from Kingdom Hearts by utilizing Disney universes and characters in their place. Confirmed series include Winnie the Pooh, Pirates of the Caribbean, Nightmare Before Christmas, and more. The good news is that this will make guessing the physics of a location a bit easier and help differentiate between locations, but considering the limit imposed by Disney franchises available it seems doubtful that the list of arenas will be as extensive as the original.

The other two major updates will directly affect the gameplay. First, and most significant to the puzzling, blocks can now be moved both vertically and horizontally. This seems like a bad idea until you realize that as good as Meteos is, it doesn't have quite the same staying power as Tetris DS, and that's largely because the game is somewhat limiting in the long run. It's frantic and fun, but the ability to set up combos is mostly dependent on luck rather than skill. The allowance to move meteos sideways could be just what the doctor ordered in terms of added strategy.

The second update borrows from Brain Age and Hotel Dusk by having the player hold the DS like a book. I really wish more designers would do this when it makes sense. Tetris DS didn't have a choice because the action is controlled by the d-pad, but touch-screen games have no excuse for limiting a vertical container with the boundaries of a horizontal screen. Spreading the action vertically across both screens doesn't count, considering the resulting dead-zone can be insanely frustrating.

Updating an already great game is a touchy endeavor. Tetris DS is a great example of adding content while keeping the charm of the original while the various updates to the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise have run it into the ground. Kingdom Hearts has been successful as a Disney project, but there is plenty of room for Meteos: Disney Edition to fall through the cracks. The announced design changes show that the developers have their thinking caps on, but the rest of us will have to wait until February 27th to see how things turn out.