Though it’s available on just about everything that plays games, Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s Lumines really belongs on Sony’s handhelds. One of the PSP’s very best launch titles, it’s a game that’s so good it’s been pretty much permanently wedged in my PSP.
It’s sequel’s also one of the launch titles for Sony’s Vita – and history’s repeated itself, because it’s pretty much indispensible.
For the uninitiated, Lumines is an electronica-charged block-dropping puzzle game that draws comparisons to the grandfather of them all, Tetris and its sibling, Columns- but where Tetris is a pixelated spring, Lumines is a more of a marathon.
The fundamental gameplay hasn’t changed at all – and still has you dropping A 2 x 2, dichromatic square made of four smaller block pieces on to a playing field, trying to build whole, single-coloured squares out of the smaller blocks. They’ll all gather, highlighted, on the playing field until a sweeping timeline – synchronised to the beat of the music takes them all away. Blocks can be shared – so dropping two of the same colour blocks on top of an already established square counts as two whole squares. The more blocks you build in a sweep, the higher the scores and bonuses accrued. Like other block dropping games, it’s game over when the constructed mess reaches the top of the screen. It sounds rather simple – but there’s a deft, keen strategy involved in it all.
To make things easier – and at the same time more complex – there are special blocks that can aid in clearing the field; the one that’s carried through from previous titles is the chain block, which causes adjacent blocks of the same colour to disappear – allowing for some incredible score multipliers and also helping ease the burden when a few errant drops have messed up the game. New is the shuffle block, a dastardly agent of chaos, which causes the blocks it lands and those surrounding it on to randomise, ruining your grand constructions. For a long while, I was convinced it was the worst thing ever put in to a Lumines game – and Lumines II featured a track from the Black Eyed Peas. Sorry for Will-I-Am and crew though, because after some careful consideration – and the fact that the shuffle block has gotten me out of some pretty tight situations, I’ve learned to embrace it.
An interesting new addition is that each of the selectable and unlockable on-screen avatars – line-drawn off-the-wall-characters – have a special ability that can be stored and unleashed when things are getting out control.The vita version throws in a new control mechanic – namely the touch screen – to allow you to drop and rotate blocks, but it’s awful, and best ignored.
Lumines’ big draw is the games skins. Unlike Tetris which only increases in speed, Lumines features a whole host of different skins – which change the backgrounds, music, tempo and coloured blocks periodically – making it far more dynamic. Each skin is accompanied by an electronic track, and though it’s not my favourite genre of music (that is to say, I don’t like it all) I can’t help but love this game’s perfect eclectic collection of dancey beats; tracks like Hey Boy Hey Girl from The Chemical Brothers, Aphex Twin’s surreal Windowlicker and Safri-duo’s upbeat Played-A-Live. I was mildly disappointed not to be greeted by Mondo Grasso’s “Shinin,” when I first booted the game up – but that faded rather quickly. If you weren’t particularly good at the first Lumines (but loved it anyway) you’ll be happy to know that it’s much easier to unlock and play new skins in Electronic Symphony, thanks to the games new XP system that sees you levelling up and unlocking stuff for pretty much everything you do.
There’s something magically transcendental about the game when you’re having a good run – which can last over two hours in the game’s main, voyage mode by the time you’re any good – when you’re caught up in the electrically trippy visuals, thumping beats and everything just fits together. At the risk of sounding like one of those new-age hippies who have unicorns tattooed on their thighs, it’s about the closest I’ve ever come to a religious experience in a videogame.
It’s not all shiny, happy, hallucinogenic wonder though; Lumines Electronic Symphony contains a dearth of options and modes when compared to its forebear. The main mode, Voyage, is the wonderful puzzle experience that shifts from skin to skin and is complemented by a mere handful of other options; Master mode; a quicker, more commute friendly version of the game that’s confined to 5 specific zones of varying difficulty; Stopwatch; a timed mode where you have to build as many blocks as possible in a predetermined time and the multiplayer Duel – which allows you to pit your block-dropping skills against a friend. Unfortunately, like so many other Vita launch title, it doesn’t allow for multiplayer games over the internet, keeping the magic confined to ad-hoc connections. The shape-building puzzles, the maddeningly difficult but inspired levels that tasked you with bulding pre-determined shapes with your block is sadly missing. There’s a new mode that plays on the social aspects of the Vita – the World Block. The basic premise is that everyone playing Electronic Symphony that day is actually working towards a common goal of clearing out a giant game block – and the more people that play on any given day, the greater the chance that block gets cleared.
Complaints aside, Lumines Electronic Symphony is a wholly entrancing game that’ll make hours of your life magically disappear – and is proof that a simple concept, wonderfully executed never gets old. If you own a PlayStation Vita and you don;t own Lumines, you’re doing yourself and your shiny new handheld a terrible disservice. this is one game that’ll be occupying my Vita for years.
The largely unchanged, addictive as all hell fundamental gameplay is still some of the most dynamic and interesting you’ll find in a block-dropping puzzle game.
Design and Presentation: 9/10
The dynamically changing skins and the designs of the now 3D blocks are immeasurably beautiful.
Get past the learning curve and take the time to really get in to the game and you’ll be rewarded with a game you can play for years. It is, however, slightly let down by the dearth of available modes.
Tetris be damned. If you have a Vita and even the slightest appreciation of puzzle games, stop reading and go grab Electronic Symphony. You can thank me later.
Lumines Electronic Symphony was reviewed by Geoffrey Tim