It’s fitting that Lumines: Electronic Symphony is a launch title for the Vita, just as it was for the PSP back in 2004 (in Japan). The core gameplay is very much the same: it’s an addictive puzzler with a poppin’ soundtrack and beautiful graphics. Naturally those visuals really shine on the Vita’s jaw-dropping 960×544 OLED, and the music is as good as ever. It’s like playing a modified Tetris while listening to the latest Armin Van Buuren episode of A State of Trance.
True, you’re probably going to get a lot more of out the Lumines experience if you like the music. If you don’t, playing this game muted or turned way down just isn’t the same. For the most part, the soundtrack is really a neutral, ambient trance or electronica. There are about thirty-three licensed tracks, the complete list of which you can see on Wikipedia. Q? also created ten songs themselves. Popular artists such as Underworld and The Chemical Brothers are included and cross-faded nicely. Tracks change with the level, bringing in a new aural experience as well as a wildly different visual feast.
If you haven’t played a Lumines game before, I would suggest grabbing the free demo. It doesn’t take anytime at all to learn how to play, but becoming skilled is a different story. If you’re used to Tetris, well, that may or may not be a good thing. The idea in Lumines is similar, but significantly different. What you have is a basic 2D plane that has a changing, vivid, 3D, moving background. Blocks fall from the top center of the screen, all 2×2 in size. These blocks only consist of, at most, two different colors. There are blocks that are all the same color as well as ones that have three of color A and one of color B, or three of color A and a power-up for color A as well. Power-ups include Chain and Shuffle blocks that can completely change the course of a game from almost-over to nearly a clean slate. Seeing a power up in the block-queue on the left side is still as exciting now as it was during my first hour.
The goal is to position the blocks such that you create blocks of 2×2 or larger (in multiples of two though, so you can’t do a 2×3) in the same color. This removes the block as the next “beat sweep” (I just made that up, not sure what it’s actually called) comes by. This beat sweep is represented by a vertical line that comes through at regular intervals. The speed or width of the line does not change from one level to another, but as it passes, it will break whatever appropriately positioned blocks you have setup. This removes them and gives you more room. As with Tetris, the idea is to keep smashing blocks and not fill up the screen.
Coming from a Tetris background as some of you may, has its advantages and disadvantages. You’re familiar with the concept and at flipping blocks around, but what you can use to break blocks is different. It takes a new kind of play-style to get great at Lumines, which is part of what makes it so addictive. Fortunately, load times are instant and the graphics, music, and controls are all great. You can use touch controls, by the way, but it’s really unnecessary. I did for just a few minutes before realizing that there was absolutely no advantage that I could fathom in using them. In addition to the d-pad, you’re only using a face button to rotate the falling block, and that’s it. Well, I should mention that there is also a front screen touch control for activating a power-up. There are about forty of these you can unlock and Gift to another player, which is quite cool. The power-ups give you advantages in multiplayer play as well as single player. An XP system rewards you for playing more, both solo and via wireless.
Another neat feature of Electronic Symphony is the World Block mode. In this mode, the entire Lumines ES community is challenged to destroy some ungodly amount (like, over a million) of blocks in a twenty-four period. Simply by playing, you can seamlessly contribute. It’s easy and satisfying to view your contribution stats and other stats related to the goal, such as how many players contributed (it was about 1400 the other night), what their average contribution was, and so on. I’m not always one to get into such modes (like the Halo Reach daily or weekly community challenges), but on a handheld, with the convenience and easily-obtained satisfaction of Lumines, I’m surprisingly into it.
It’s hard for me to find much to complain about with Lumines. I’ll be interested to see if Q? and Ubisoft are able to, or decide to, release new music for it in the coming months. Hopefully as a community reward or free DLC, but regardless, the music available now is not likely to get old for sometime. I will say that some of the levels have an eye-straining design. The stage with the track “Disco Infiltrator” was tough on the eyes, at least to start with. The backgrounds of the stages change regularly, but the actual blocks only change when the music does. By the way, when you hit game over, you can restart on the latest stage, which sure beats having to start completely over again.
With that, lets get to the summary…