Gadling's resident pilot explains what life in the cockpit is like
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Joystiq presents

Gaming to Go: Meteos

The end comes quickly. White fire screams out of the night, raining destruction down from the heavens. The populace is thrown into chaos, helpless to stop the assault. Five minutes pass. When the dust settles, the world is quiet. The only sound comes from a distance: a single anguished scream as one angry word flashes across the sky.


This is Meteos.

That white fire? Call it Meteos, colorful symbols constantly plummeting towards the planet. The populace? Over thirty different alien races, each with its own unique world. And those five minutes? That, uh, isn't really a storyline element. No, it's a reflection of my skill, which typically dooms a planet to utter annihilation in the time it takes those poor aliens to start freaking out and hiding under tables.

Welcome to Gaming to Go, a shiny new feature devoted to the games best suited for our increasingly busy lifestyles. Only have a few minutes to spare on your daily commute? Bored with thinking deep thoughts whenever you're on the toilet? Read on to hear why one of the DS's oldest titles is still one of the best to spend your precious scant time with.

Most DS owners have probably played Q Entertainment's premier puzzler since it debuted in 2005. For those sad few who haven't, consider this a pleasant reminder to fix that immediately.

Simple mode is ideal for a gamer on the go. How can you go wrong with one short round of explosive mayhem and falling blocks? But don't let thoughts of Tetris stop you -- Meteos takes the tried-and-true formula into an entirely different galaxy.

Individual squares can be moved vertically during play, switching spots with the colorful blocks higher or lower in a column. Matching up a set of at least three blocks either horizontally or vertically sends all squares above the match soaring into the air, blasting off with explosive fanfare.

The action escalates the longer you stay alive. Few things are more frantic and exciting than the last minute of a match, when you'll be scrambling to line up blocks and send them jetting out of the atmosphere. You'll know you're out of time the moment the screen starts flashing and long lines of blocks grow high enough to touch the ceiling. Panic and scribble on the screen all you like -- annihilation is inevitable. The death of an entire planet? Yeah, that's all on you. Sorry.

But dry those tears, galactic defender! The speed of a single match provides plenty of time to jump right back into the action, and Meteos's choice of 32 different planets makes every crushing defeat a fresh experience. Each heavenly body is unique in a couple of ways, from gravity level to the width of the playing field, so you'll have to stay sharp and adopt different tactics to send those Meteos jetting out of the atmosphere.

The downside of such a large catalog of planets, however, is that most of them aren't immediately available. Veteran players can dive right in and start a match wherever they please, but gamers new to the title -- shame on you! -- will have to play a decent number of matches before they can unlock some of the crazier celestial playgrounds. This is more an inconvenience than an actual problem, as part of Meteos's charm is the ability to choose where to spend your precious few minutes in a galaxy full of increasingly weird planets.

Meteos also comes with a Time War mode, where players can try and rack up the highest score possible in 2 or 5 minute matches. You lose the option to choose a planet, unfortunately, but imposing a time limit on each match ups the ante a satisfying amount. Racking up a high score is surprisingly difficult when you only have a few frantic minutes, so Time War mode had the added benefit of training me to perform better instead of quietly weeping whenever the Meteos stacked to the ceiling.

I'm probably preaching to the choir -- many consider Meteos a must-own for any self-respecting DS owner's library. But for those who missed out on their chance to sling around some hyperactive blocks, finding a used copy might prove difficult. You might run across Meteos: Disney Magic instead, a kid-friendly take on the original that makes some pretty noticeable changes.

The Disney version flips the action on its side, lengthening the playing field by forcing you to hold the DS like a book. It also allows blocks to be moved left or right on all but the hardest of difficulties, opening up new ways to delay the death of your planet. General consensus seems mixed, however, on whether or not those changes actually improve the gameplay. One could even argue that limiting block movement to the vertical axis is half of the challenge, but difficulty in tracking down a copy of Meteos might make those colorful pastels and childhood symbols all the more appealing.

Still, no matter what version you pick up, the core gameplay is pretty much the same. And what gameplay it is! For a gamer on the go, Meteos is an excellent way to spend your precious time. Where else can you murder a planet in less than five minutes?

And now, the very official statistics:

Sleep time: Meteos automatically pauses the game whenever you put the DS in sleep mode, meaning you won't be immediately bombarded with blocks and colorful chaos whenever you open the lid. Having a moment to study your options before jumping back into the the fray turns a seemingly insignificant feature into a godsend.

Load time: You'll spend about twenty-five seconds going through loading screens and a wee bit of UI before you can jump right into a match. How do I know this? I used the stopwatch on my phone. This is so precise it hurts.

Play time:
As mentioned above, a typical match can run from thirty seconds to over five minutes. It's all on you, honestly. If you're short on time, you might want to suck a little bit. I can do it without even trying!

Tick tock of the clock ringing in your ears? Tell your timepiece to shove it! We live busy lives, but remember this: there's always time to game. Check back with Gaming to Go every Thursday for the latest and greatest titles you should spend your precious few minutes with.

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