Reviewed: April 9, 2005
Released: March 23, 2005
The mad scientists at Q Entertainment and Bandai have been hard at work in their labs, this time genetically splicing Tetris with games like Frequency and DDR to create Lumines. Say it with me in your evilest of voices, ďITíS ALIVE!Ē
Yes, Lumines is alive and bent on destroying your life by occupying every last moment of your free time with its addictive gameplay. If you arenít careful, youíll start sneaking in games at work, during prime time TV, at the dinner table, and heaven help you if you take your PSP into the bedroom.
Oddly enough, the simplest games often prove to be the most addicting. Perhaps itís because you can easily pick them up and knock off a few rounds, put the PSP into sleep mode and resume your game at the next red light. You really donít have to think when you play this game. Itís all about reflexes and instinctive puzzle solving. Once that part of your brain takes over you can easily hold a conversation, perform surgery, fly a 747, or even watch TV while playing.
Lumines offers 24 levels that increase in complexity and intensity, each with its own musical theme as well as flashy, and often distracting, background screen. You can tackle these levels in one of four gameplay modes including single player, head-to-head, time attacks, and puzzle challenges.
At first glance most people will dismiss Lumines as ďjust another Tetris cloneĒ, but there is much more lurking under the surface. Lumines is an interactive video and music making experience. The music changes to match the intensity of the gameplay and the sounds effects make sounds that complement the music so you are almost orchestrating your own soundtrack simply by playing the game. Much like the sound, the video backgrounds are constantly in motion, changing with the pace of the game and animated to the beat of the music, which is also influenced by your performance.
The core gameplay is extremely simple. At any given time you have a 2x2 cluster of blocks that can be any mix of two possible colors. Your goal is to stack them so that you get four or more connecting blocks in a square pattern (linear doesnít count). The orientation of the screen is also unique in that it is wider than it is tall Ė something we normally (if ever) get in a puzzle game like this.
Three other elements help differentiate this game from the rest. If you stack blocks so that part of the block overhangs the block will break apart and the rest will continue to the lowest possible position. This breakaway feature along with the Mr. Driller style combo chains of falling blocks can create some exciting gameplay moments and even lend itself to some strategy if you can plan far enough ahead.
The other feature that makes for some serious block removal is that from time to time a cluster will fall with a gem embedded in one of the four blocks. If that block becomes part of a cluster that gets removed not only does the initial cluster vanish but any matching colors that are touching, regardless of their pattern, will also disappear. Obviously, when this happens there is usually a massive chain reaction of the opposing color as well.
The third gameplay feature that sets this game apart and actually adds a bit of difficulty to the experience is the way the blocks are removed from the board. As blocks are matched up they turn into a solid mass of color but they do not vanish until a sweeper line moves across the board to dematerialize them. This means that for a few moments you can add to the cluster with more blocks or you could potentially lose the game if you stack too high on blocks that havenít vanished yet. The pacing of these line is tied into the music so faster music means faster block removal.
The single player game is where you are likely to spend your time but gamers on a time budget can opt for a variety of time limits and see how far they can get. And if you have a favorite song or background you can try the Single Skin mode and see how far you can get with a single theme.
The puzzle mode is insanely difficult and requires you to fill up outlines of patterns with blocks, essentially forcing you to think backwards by stacking blocks so they donít vanish. There is also a rewarding multiplayer game via Wi-Fi where you can go head-to-head with another human, much like other Tetris games. This is highly addictive and not only has you fighting for high score but for every last combo on a shared board.
Visually, I am reminded of the pulsing background in games like DDR. This is the techno stuff you would see on video walls in an underground club in Amsterdam with montage style graphics, digital imagery with CG special effect superimposed on them, etc.
Admittedly, there are a few color scheme and vibrant backgrounds that can actually get distracting and cause you to lose focus, but I only count that as a difficulty of the game. Overall, Lumines is an audio-visual experience as much as it is a game.
Lumines delivers a solid musical package with plenty of techno and trance tunes from Japanese DJ Mondo Grosso. These tunes are the perfect backdrop to the simplistic game design and are arranged in such a way that they match the pacing of your gameplay.
Additionally, you can create synthesized notes and beats to enhance the original song in subtle ways. These sounds change with the theme to match the style of music so they blend in seamlessly. I must have played for several hours before I even realized I was mixing my own original score by dropping blocks and making combos.
Lumines is truly a game without end. Sure, you can eventually get through all 24 levels but you will never master them, and therein lies the challenge of going back and trying to best your previous scores.
This is also one of those rare games that could almost be considered therapeutic. You can sit down after a hard day at work (unless your work is playing Lumines) and chill with some cool tunes and mind-blowing visuals.
I was reminded of the STNG episode where the crew of the Enterprise all got hooked on that VR headset game. Lumines is just that addicting, although itís not tweaking any pleasure centers of my brain (as far as I know), and if we arenít careful we could soon have a world of non-productive Lumines-playing zombies on our hands.
Lumines is easily the best puzzle game on the PSP and one of our top five favorites for the system so far. Easy to pick up and impossible to put down (except to flush the toilet), youíll be totally hooked from the moment you pick this game up until the day you ďthinkĒ youíve mastered it, and even then your quest for perfection will compel you to keep playing until the day you die.