The Great Indoors
A month or two ago, I stopped into a tiny import shop to see if they had anything laying around for the DS I’d never heard of. This was almost always true for the ‘cube - here we sometimes get the idea that the poor, beleaguered “purse” is just scraping by, soundly third place material. While that’s not exactly true, it’s even less true in Japan, and this guy usually has something in the case - under the Ifrit figurine - that makes me wonder what other treasures wait in the east.
I asked the behind-the-counter guy if Meteos required any Japanese knowledge to enjoy it, because I’ve imported lots of stuff and it’s run the gamut from “completely impregnable” to “expressly produced for the world market.” He assured me that it had no Japanese anywhere in it, really. Which I must stress is an absolute lie.
There was a little man leering from a box in space when I turned it on, and that may seem inscrutable to you but that was the most sensible bit of stimuli the game had on offer. A series of four floating gems, each inscribed with the devil language of Japan exhorted me from the lower screen. I reached out with the stylus, but I must have moved my wrist because I had flung the gem against the side of the screen where it proceeded to bounce against the others. They began to slide around on each other in an unseemly way, a way I can only describe as being like six slugs in a ziplock bag, eternally and unstoppably moist. Utilizing some Aztec ruins type bullshit I eventually found the proper combination of actions to start the game, but my mind was spent from these earlier rigors.
When a review copy arrived, festooned with the language of my fathers, I understood immediately why Jeremy would have said what he did. From a raw presentation perspective, Lumines and the PSP are really synonymous in my mind - it was the first game I spent a lot of time with, and I had the opportunity to see that comparatively gigantic display coupled with a considerable supply of inventive, original digital music. There’s simply no way to compare that element between the two systems. On the other hand, you can tell that it’s by the same group - there are elements in common. Every “world” has a different music track, and while you play you are adding sounds to the overall tune. These sounds are different from world to world.
I prefer the experience of playing Lumines, but in terms of gameplay I’d have to say that I almost prefer Meteos. Blocks fall down. Tell me if you’ve heard this one. Instead of clusters (Lumines, Tetris) or dyads (Puyo Pop), pieces fall down individually. You know when you come into a level the relative percentages of each color you can expect to see. Using the stylus, which I must say is employed perfectly here, you can slide elements in a single column up or down - you can never move them left or right. Any time three of the same element come into contact, either vertically or horizontally, they ignite and launch the blocks above them into space. Except the combination of these elements only represents a certain amount of “thrust,” and for a large pile of blocks three elements are probably insufficient. So while it hangs in mid-air, you can make further combinations inside the airborne mass, or toss up elements from below that will bump it up slightly while you try to set up a chain of explosions.
That’s the game, but there are a couple twists that are nice: any elements you launch into space are tallied, and you combine these elements together to create new powerups for multiplayer, new worlds, and music tracks. Every world you unlock for solo play has different parameters - the amount of gravity, what elements are present, that kind of stuff. It’s not strictly necessary, but I would be lying if I said that hadn’t “mined” a certain level for a particular element. I wish that I knew someone else with a DS, because I’d really like to try duking it out. You can send a small version of the game to another DS for this purpose, but my problem is that we don’t actually know anyone else with the hardware. I’m actually borrowing Gabe’s to play it at all. More games as good as Kirby and Meteos, and the machine will become a good deal harder to resist.
and it burns, burns, burns