Meteos: Disney Magicseemed like it was going to be one of those games that I wouldn't be able to put down once I picked it up. It combined everything I like about games for the Nintendo DS, or so I thought. You use the stylus to play. The game featured Disney characters, so it was family friendly and totally non-violent. Well, it should have been non-violent. Technically, the game itself is non-violent. The violence came with me throwing the DS at the couch in complete frustration. In the simple words of my son, "The game is just too hard, Mommy. I don't like it."
We wanted to like Meteos: Disney Magic, we truly did. The game play sounded great. It is essentially a "match three" game, and we like those types of games. This is the first one we've experienced on the Nintendo DS, so we were excited about how it would play out. The answer is not well, unfortunately. And I think that that reason is quite simple: The blocks drop too fast compared to how quickly the DS can react. You have to move your stylus across the game screen in order to match groups of three or more of the same tiny picture, thus launching those blocks, and any immediately above them, off the top of the screen. If you do this enough, those blocks will disappear. If you don't, they will sink back down, along with others, and you have to try again. And while this is all happening, blocks are constantly being added from the top, either a few at a time, or in groups, for you to deal with. If it sounds hectic, that's because it is.
When you first start Meteos: Disney Magic, you can choose either single player or multiplayer. The multiplayer mode requires multiple people to own the game in order to play, but there is a DS Download play that lets you share the game with others who own a DS. You play against each other based on what you've unlocked in single-player mode. Since single player is where you'll spend most of your time, I'll explain that one best.
In story mode, you pick between Easy, Normal, Hard and Expert difficulty levels, though Expert starts out locked. Easy has a linear path of five levels and really only gives you an idea of how to play the game. I don't recall unlocking much by playing Easy difficulty, and it didn't take long to do so. Normal is nine levels with some choices, and to play through on this difficulty, you have to pass five of them. The best way to describe the level progression is to picture a diamond shape. At each end, there are levels you must play through to advance; in the center, you have some choices. This gives some replay to the game, even on a difficulty setting you've previously mastered. Or, it would if it were possible to feel as though you've mastered a difficulty setting. The Hard and Expert difficulties have five levels each and are set up the same way. Personally, I can do the first level on Hard if I really try and don't mind repeating things over and over until I succeed. I once made it all the way through Normal difficulty, but it took me hours to do so.
There are different types of game boards depending on the storybook you are in. And there is some difference in how the blocks will fall depending on the storybook. The board type I like the most is the "No losses for a certain amount of time," meaning that you just have to keep the board from filling with blocks for that amount of time and launch as many blocks as possible. I can handle that one, but unfortunately, it doesn't come up often. Then there's the "Win against one opponent" board. This is a survival-of-the-fittest-type game. Your opponent will drop large groupings of blocks on you, and you have to figure out how to deal with them and keep the board from filling quickly. The opponent in single-player mode is the computer. I think there is just a background timer running so that if you can last long enough, you win. I've yet to see a way to judge how my opponent was doing, so that's the best I can figure.
"Launch a certain number of blocks" is pretty self-explanatory. You have to clear a certain number of blocks off the top of the screen before the screen fills up. "Launch a certain number of specific blocks" is basically the same, and it tells you the type of block before you start. It took me a while to figure that out; I would just guess which type to launch the most of. Even once I did figure out how to tell what type of block to launch, the problem was that I couldn't see any counter that told me how many I had launched. And even if there had been one on the screen somewhere, I probably couldn't have followed it, because I had to watch the main screen very closely just to keep up.
In each of these type of game boards, you can have blocks that drop in groups or blocks that drop slowly or very quickly. It sometimes requires you to launch blocks three or four times in a row in order to get them to really lift off; other times, it requires you to launch the same stack of blocks multiple times while in the air to get them to the top of the screen. There is something slightly different about each storybook background you encounter. You'd think that this was a good thing because it keeps you on your toes. Unfortunately, what it has meant for us is that we don't feel like we can get anywhere toward mastering the game.
Also in single player, you can play just single levels after they have been unlocked in Challenge mode. Once you have picked the storybook you want to play, you can decide on the rules, as well. This is why I've spent more time playing in this mode to practice with the types of games at which I don't do so well in Story Mode. One of the biggest problems I have with Story Mode is that you can't stop in the middle and save your progress. You either have to play through all nine levels in one sitting or just give up on any progress you made. Once you start in Story Mode, you can't go back and pick the other types of games without turning off the DS. It seems like a bad design idea to have a game that is for kids that can't save frequently. And it really shows that the game wasn't tested by kids before being released, because my children won't touch it.
One of the things the designers did right was to give frequent rewards for successful play. With every level that I pass well enough to earn a bronze star on, I unlock something new in the "Extras" portion of the game. The extras include new backgrounds, music, images and even what they call "Story Viewer." These are mini stories about what is happening to the characters in the different storybooks. There are ones for when you are making good progress and others for when you are having bad progress, and they are cute to watch. The stories in the game are some of Disney's most recent classics. They include Toy Story, The Nightmare Before Christmas, The Little Mermaid, Cinderella, Winnie the Pooh, Lilo & Stitch, The Lion King,, a Mickey Mouse Fireworks type story and one other that I still haven't unlocked.
As I said, I really wanted to like this game. I really wanted to have it be one that I could play with my kids - or against them even. The kids, however, won't touch it. And I get so angry at the lack of real progress, of having to do the same levels over and over without the feeling that I'm getting somewhere, that I've just put the game back in the box. Which reminds me, one hint we will give to anyone who does try this game: Don't play with a less-than-perfect stylus. If it is at all damaged, say by a child that chews on the end, the game is multiple times harder, because the touch pad can't really tell where you are moving. The blocks on the screen are so tiny, and the rows are packed so closely together, that I frequently found that I had moved a block that I didn't intend to, causing me to lose the game. A fresh stylus helped with this but didn't eliminate it completely. The game is just very sensitive, and it is easy to move the wrong block or group of blocks. This and how fast the blocks drop in general made it too hard for our family to enjoy. However, if I were you, I wouldn't dismiss the game completely based on my review. If you read about the game play and think you might be up for the challenge, try renting the game. You might find that rather than being frustrated, you're challenged and well-rewarded for your efforts.
The “glory days” of computer gaming for me were when games like Spectre Supreme, Pirate’s Gold, the Might and Magic series, the original Prince of Persia… those sorts of games were coming out on a regular basis. Back then I owned a Macintosh and was a die hard Mac fan. I was one of the first in my area to buy an iMac and on it learned the joy of playing games on the internet like daily crossword puzzle and “mind bender” type puzzles. My first online RPG was given to me for Christmas the year EQ was released, and I was hooked from day one. I played EQ for about a year. I started playing DaoC during late alpha testing, and was hooked on it.. well, to be honest I still am. I’ve tried pretty much every MMORPG I can get my hands on, from big names like EQ, to more obscure ones such as Underlight. I’ve been writing for IMGS since the first DaoC guide, and find I love the challenge of learning a game and presenting what I’ve learned (and sometimes my opinions), to other players.
I’m not a very strong player as far as learning PvE or quick reaction times, so I tend to stay away from games where I’m pitted against someone else in a way that requires physical (rather than mental) response. I still enjoy story and puzzle games, and in a way that’s how I still approach online games. I would much rather spend hours working through a quest than 5 minutes in combat against another player. I still get lost in simulation type games, obsessing over them until I’ve gotten them beaten. And I like being able to sit down at the computer when I’ve got less than half an hour and playing through a few levels of a puzzle game. I tend not to like first-person shooter type games, or anything with person to person violence, so I steer away from them unless they are fantasy based settings. All in all, I enjoy computer gaming so much that my life feels incomplete somehow when my computer is down.