Has there been a video game copied more than "Tetris"? Usually, such copycats make me snooze. But "Meteos" is a gem – so good that it finally makes the Nintendo DS seem like a worthwhile gaming machine.

That’s high praise from me. Until this point, I wasn’t a true DS believer. The dual screens and use of the stylus made things unnecessarily awkward in the DS games I’ve tried.

But here we have a game that actually fits. "Meteos" is played with the stylus, and unlike many "Tetris" clones over the years, this game builds on that classic core. You still line up three matching blocks to make them disappear, but there’s lots of other stuff, too.

To understand what’s happening, you’ll have to play for quite a while. This puzzle game has a story line, and while it doesn’t really have a story mode, it does exude atmosphere and character.

Meteo is an evil planet that is bombarding the universe with deadly meteors. You defend more than 30 planets by lining up the meteors and shooting them back into space. As various blocks rain down, you move them vertically with the stylus. (You can use the keypad, but you paid all this money for the touch screen, right?)

The trick is to line them up to link three matching blocks either vertically or horizontally. They then launch into space, and if they shoot into the top screen, they disappear, keeping your lower screen clear and keeping you in the game. If the screen fills up, your planet explodes. Ouch.

Each planet you defend has different characteristics, such as varying strengths of gravity. One planet is underwater. That means blocks fall at varying paces and zoom into space slower or faster.

There are several game modes from which to choose. Simple mode gives you a certain number of planet lives – you play as long as you can before your planet explodes. Star Trip mode puts you through a series of battles, ending with a finale versus the evil Meteo. Time War mode makes speed most important, as you race a clock.

You can play wirelessly against up to three people. If they have their own "Meteos" game cards, you can play complex battles. But even if they don’t – and this is very cool – they can temporarily download a demo of the game from your machine and battle against you.

No friends around? You can play against up to three computer-controlled opponents.

This game has great sound – epic stuff like you’d hear in a "Star Wars" movie. An extra mode called Fusion allows you to meld together meteors you’ve collected to create sounds, new planets and items that help in battle, like giant hammers and smoke screens.

If you’re a "Tetris" fan, you need no convincing. But for those who’ve never dwelled in that space, "Meteos" is especially heavenly.

Price: $29.99

Web site: http://meteos.nintendods.com.

Players: 1-4 with wireless play.

Format: Nintendo DS.

© 2005, Detroit Free Press.

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.