Considering developer Q Entertainment's pedigree, the Meteos series can't help but feel like the odd man out by comparison. After all, the developer's trademark synesthetic touch, combining music, gameplay and head-blowing visuals into a potpourri of sensatory overstimulation, only plays a minor role here, but it's less of an issue than players might think. Like in Lumines and Every Extend Extra, some of the developer's better known games, Meteos Wars, the series' Xbox Live Arcade iteration, has enough beyond the surface to keep players coming back long after they put their heads back together.
For the uninitiated, Meteos Wars can essentially be described as "Tetris Attack With Rockets In Space." Players move blocks vertically and line up sets of three or more blocks, which converts them into rocket boosters, lifting any blocks underneath them towards the opponent's screen; like in Tetris Attack, players fill the opponent's screen with blocks to win.
When players get enough points, they can also unleash "Planet Impact" moves, attack maneuvers which, if timed correctly, can tip the game in a player's favor. Some moves are more effective than others, as one "Planet Impact" move, which sends down a pile of flaming bricks, tends to result in an easy victory, but skilled players can usually mitigate the difference.
What makes Meteos Wars unique is its approach to the Tetris formula: depending on the level (which the game calls "planets") and the load placed on the rockets, blocks won't always hit opponents immediately. Planets have varying levels of gravity and block distribution: a set of rockets can hit an opponent's screen by itself in one level, but fall back to the ground like a lead weight in another. Plus, the type of blocks planets dispense varies, so out of the six block color types, one planet might give out more reds than blues and so on. Also, launching up a large mass of blocks with just one set of rockets only gets them airborne for a second — players have to chain together rocket sets or launch additional rockets underneath larger masses to get them to an opponent's screen.
As hard as the gameplay might be to digest, it's surprisingly easy to figure out in practice. The game is built for approachability, as the simple control scheme — analog sticks control block movement, with the triggers and the Y button controlling everything else — and a sharp visual style (outside of the final stage, which can best be described as witnessing digital diarrhea) make Meteos Wars easy to pick up for casual players. Things can tend to get hectic, as players have to continually form new strategies for dealing with progressively larger chains of rockets, gravity, planet types and their opponent tossing more blocks at them, but this unpredictability bolsters the game's depth.
Meteos Wars backs up its gameplay with a fairly well rounded package: besides the basic local and Xbox Live multiplayer support, single-player includes a basic Versus mode; Mission Mode, a campaign that takes players through a handful of levels; and Attack Mode, which includes three separate sub-modes.
"1-Minute Attack" has players trying to earn their highest score in a minute and "Challenge Mode" tosses an ever-increasing amount of blocks to see how long players can survive, while "100-Meteos Attack" sees how fast players can eliminate 100 blocks from the screen. Each mode deviates enough from the basic format to make them seem like more than afterthought — the various modes are varied enough to give Meteos Wars a decent amount of replayability.
However, this versatility stumbles thanks of the game's unforgiving difficulty curve. Anything nearing guidance for first-time Meteos players is restricted to a handful of text screens and a brief tutorial video in the pause menu. Even playing on the easiest difficulty, starting players can expect to be killed frequently as the computer-controlled opponent beats them into submission underneath a pile of blocks, which makes it harder to get into Meteos than it really should be.
This isn't helped by the game's predilection for sparse downloadable content. The only piece of downloadable content currently available — priced at 350 Microsoft Points or $4.37 USD — adds 9 new planets, but 7 of those 9 are recycled from the original Meteos on the Nintendo DS. There's certainly enough content to keep players interested in Meteos Wars, but given the tepid response that Q Entertainment got with downloadable content for "Lumines Live!" on XBLA, it's a shame that their next go at downloadable content isn't much better.
Still, these are only minor hiccups in a remarkably solid game. Meteos Wars is definitely a lean package, putting in just the bare essentials, and while it might lack the visual zest of some of Q Entertainment's better-known titles, the gameplay, which hits the right balance between approachability and replayability, more than makes up the difference.