Review: Lumines: Electronic Symphony (Sony Playstation Vita)

Lumines: Electronic Symphony
Genre: Puzzle
Developer: Q Entertainment
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release Date: 02/15/12

Seven years ago, the US market was introduced to the Lumines franchise on the Sony PSP, so it makes a sort of sense to see a new title in the franchise debut with the Playstation Vita, as the PSP was “home” for the franchise, in a sense. Not that the series hasn’t progressed onto other platforms; while the PSP saw a direct sequel in Lumines II, the game has also seen releases on XBLA in Lumines Live! and PSN in Lumines Supernova, as well as ports to the iOS and PC platform. That said, though, the series debuted on the PSP and blossomed from there, so coming home to launch a new title alongside the Playstation Vita when the PSP launched the series is a nice touch if nothing else. Lumines: Electronic Symphony really doesn’t do a lot to change the formula created by its predecessors, it should be noted up front, as the core gameplay experience really does work well enough that heavy tweaking likely isn’t necessary. What it does do, however, is add in new and different elements that take advantage, reasonably, of what the Playstation Vita is capable of without cramming in all sorts of weird functionality like, for example, making you move the blocks with the rear touch pad or something. The end result of this is a game that easily justifies its slightly lower price point for those who like the series or just puzzle games in general, and while it doesn’t do anything to reinvent the wheel, it probably doesn’t need to.

The Lumines series is hardly known for its amazing storytelling, and Lumines: Electronic Symphony is no exception, so let us instead discuss the game modes available to you as the player. The game starts you off with five options from the main menu, with the largest of the lot being “Begin Voyage” which is your standard sequential challenge mode, where you play stages in order until you fail. More Modes hosts the remaining play modes available, including Master, a challenging sequence of stages for the best players, Duel, a two-player versus battle, Stopwatch, which challenges you to get the most possible eliminations in a time limit, and Playlist, which allows you to build a playlist of your favorite stages and play. Collection shows off your unlocked Avatars and Stages, and allows you to “gift” them to other players if you wish. World Block allows you to review the World Block, a massive block that is slowly cleared as players go to through the Voyage and clear blocks. Finally, Options allows you to set game options, see your basic play history, view game tutorials and view the credits. You can also check your friends list and your statistics against friends from the icons in the upper right corner of the main launch screen if you wish. There are a pretty good amount of play modes and customization options for players from the start, both familiar and unique to the series, and you’ll find a decent amount to occupy yourself with right out of the box, and it only grows as you unlock more customization options.

Lumines: Electronic Symphony is artistically fascinating and makes good use of the visual capabilities of the Playstation Vita, and while it’s not a technical powerhouse so to say, it does what it does very well. The blocks you place and backgrounds you see are constantly changing, and each time they do so they’re often drastically different from one another. Each environment looks great and the colors and schemes are matched very well from one to the next, and the game also showcases many exciting lighting effects when eliminating blocks and using special blocks. There’s also a very interesting visual effect when changing environments where the actual environmental change transforms as it follows the timeline, making for an immediately visible change that’s interesting and very cool. Aurally, the game is almost entirely about its music, and fortunately for the game, said music is pretty fantastic. The game uses a soundtrack that consists of all sorts of musical genres, and while the majority of the tracks are electronic influenced in some form or another, they don’t sound like generic dance tunes in the least, as talented acts like Underworld, BT, Pet Shop Boys and The Chemical Brothers make appearances here. Also, the game includes the track “Windowlicker” from Aphex Twin and, really, any game that includes an Aphex Twin song somewhere is almost guaranteed to get high marks from me, and if you don’t understand why I feel very bad for you. There’s not much in the way of voice work, aside from the female announcer who introduces the game modes and tracks, but she does her job just fine and there’s nothing to complain about there. The sound effects are also very well executed, especially when eliminating blocks, when the sound effects for block eliminations and placement change to match the tone of the song playing, which is outstanding for a myriad of reasons.

Mechanically, the Lumines series is not at all complicated to grasp, and Lumines: Electronic Symphony does nothing to make the gameplay overly complex, so anyone can jump right in and play. Blocks drop from the top of the screen, each of which is composed of four smaller blocks, which can be made up of blocks of one or two colors and/or a special block of some type. You can move the block around with the D-Pad and rotate it with the face buttons until it’s in proper placement, then drop it by pressing down on the D-Pad to make it go into place. Your objective is to put four blocks of the same color together, at a minimum, to light that grouping up, which marks it for removal. Then, when the timeline, which matches up to the tempo of the song, passes the blocks, it deletes them, freeing up space on the field and awarding you points. Your goal is to keep deleting blocks to free up space for more blocks until you run out of space, which ends the session and awards you whatever final score you’ve earned. New to this game is the ability to play with the touch screen, as you can drag falling blocks to move them and tap them to rotate them, which is cute, though at higher speeds this can be more troubling than simply playing with the controls. Still, the option is there, and it works fine as an alternative, but either way, the game is easy to understand for players of all skillsets.

Lumines: Electronic Symphony adds in a couple of novel concepts to add to the experience a bit, and while the additions are a combination of new elements and old, they’re welcome all the same. Aside from the normal blocks you’ll see drop in your patterns, you’ll also see the odd special blocks pop up that can be useful or detrimental, depending on the circumstances. Most commonly in the single player modes you’ll see Chain Blocks, which eliminate any blocks of the same color that are connected to it, and Shuffle Blocks, which shuffle around all of the blocks in the stack you drop onto. You can use these for big elimination builds or to try and save yourself from failure when going through the solo games, but these aren’t the only options available to you. You’re also given an Avatar to represent yourself, which by all indications starts as “Boy”, and each Avatar comes with two abilities built in, one for solo play and one for versus play. In solo play, these abilities are always meant to be helpful, such as turning the next block into a Chain Block or Shuffle Block, delaying the drop rate, turning all of the currently waiting blocks into single color blocks, and more. In versus play, while you can pick an Avatar that uses a strictly beneficial ability, you can also pick an Avatar that uses an ability that hinders your opponent, such as forcing them to deal with unique special blocks or Shuffle Blocks (which can be helpful or hurtful, bear in mind), so if you want to play in jerk mode, go nuts. Using these abilities is as simple as tapping your Avatar’s face, though once you do so, the ability won’t be available again until you score a bunch more eliminations, so it’s best to use it for when it will help the most.

Lumines: Electronic Symphony also builds experience for you as you play through sessions and eliminate blocks, which in turn unlocks more Avatars for you to use. The concept is simple enough: play the game, eliminate lots of blocks, get experience, level up, repeat as appropriate. As you play, you’ll unlock new Avatars and stages to gift to others or use for yourself, and you’ll track your stats for play if you’re interested in this. This, on its own, is simple but amusing, but where the game expands on this concept is by adding in a concept called the World Block. If you can connect the Vita online, you can routinely check the World Block, which is a giant block that is slowly worn down by players around the world eliminating blocks in their game sessions. If you contribute to this act by playing a session online, you gain more experience than you normally would for contributing to the session, and if the world can successfully eliminate the block during that day there’s more benefit on top of that. At this point the World Block has gone from not being eliminated in a full day to being eliminated in around six hours, though, so you’ll likely see the possibilities for advancement fluctuate as time passes, but it’s a neat concept that can allow you to earn levels faster if you’re so inclined, and adds benefit to simply playing the game. You do have to be connected to take part in this, however, so if you’re going to be playing offline only that’s of less benefit, but even if you have wireless at home you have options.

Depending on how good at puzzle games you are, an average session of play in the Voyage mode will likely take around an hour, and the further you go, the more you unlock, so you’ll have reasons to come back for more. You also have more options available for single play, like Master for skilled players, Duel for two players to go head to head, Stopwatch to challenge your speed, and Playlist if you just want to see your favorite stages, so there are plenty of play options for those interested. The ability to level up, unlock new content and clear the World Block during play sessions is also interesting and gives you plenty of reason to come back if you’re into it, and if nothing else, the game has Trophies associated to clear to add to your PSN score. The PS3 and 360 Lumines games also offered various downloadable content packs, so there’s the possibility for this here as well, if you’re interested in building your song library, if the game does well. For such a simple concept, Lumines: Electronic Symphony has a surprisingly solid amount of depth and variety to it, and for the lower than normal price it’s definitely worth the cash.

The single biggest issue standing against Lumines: Electronic Symphony is that, well, it’s Lumines, and as such, 1.) if you’ve played the series before you know what you’re getting up-front with little surprise, and 2.) even if you haven’t, you’ve likely played a puzzle game like it before. The series is built almost exclusively on the synesthesia aesthetic concept advanced by series creator Tetsuya Mizuguchi, which he’s built into his other projects, like Rez and Child of Eden, and while this is an interesting concept, aesthetically, it doesn’t make the game any more original. The core mechanics have been in a number of puzzle games for years, if not decades, and games like Columns and Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine have been doing similar things since the sixteen bit days, and if you’re a fan of the series, you’ll find that aside from the novelties and the Avatar options, little has changed. Beyond that, the game is basically all about the concept of playing the same basic game mode ad infinitum, which is fine if you have local friends (as the multiplayer is ad hoc only) or are okay with playing the game in short spurts, but for all of its meaty features, the game is basically the same experience over and over.

Lumines: Electronic Symphony is basically a game for puzzle game fans who are looking for reasonable challenge and style over variety, as the game is easy to learn and challenging as it goes and very well designed aesthetically, but doesn’t bring much to the table you haven’t seen before. The game offers a fairly robust amount of play options, and it looks and sounds absolutely fantastic. The game is very simple to learn and you’ve likely seen the base mechanics before, but it’s well balanced and features some novelties that might make it fun for series and genre fans, or just someone looking to burn an hour erasing blocks to electronic music. The game is mostly unoriginal, unfortunately, and trades on its concept rather than any interesting novelties it might bring to the table, as it’s basically based on concepts that have been around for years, and for all its game modes, the game is basically the same across the board. Lumines: Electronic Symphony is a great deal of fun as a time waster or for the puzzle game fan looking for something more artistically odd, but it’s not really going to rope you in if you’ve seen what it does before and are looking for something a little more involved. For what it does, it does it very well, but that’s not going to be enough for everyone.

The Scores:
Game Modes: GOOD
Graphics: GREAT
Sound: UNPARALLELED
Control/Gameplay: GREAT
Replayability: ABOVE AVERAGE
Balance: GREAT
Originality: POOR
Addictiveness: ABOVE AVERAGE
Appeal: ABOVE AVERAGE
Miscellaneous: GREAT

FINAL SCORE: GOOD GAME.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Lumines: Electronic Symphony definitely has its strong points, and for the most part is a fantastic puzzle experience for the Playstation Vita with some interesting presentation and gameplay options, but not as much originality or variety in return. There is a solid variety to the play modes offered in the game, and the game is an aesthetic marvel in virtually every aspect. The game is very simple to pick up and play, and offers a solid amount of variety in its different play modes, unlockables and options to keep the game interesting as a long term experience, whether it be to unlock everything or to waste a little time when you’re bored. The game doesn’t bring anything really unique to the table, as whatever you haven’t seen in prior games in the genre you’ll have almost entirely seen in this series, and the game offers a lot of modes but features the same functional play options across them, which is likely to wear eventually. For the cost, however, Lumines: Electronic Symphony is a solid and well designed puzzle game that’s well worth the asking price if you’re a puzzle game fan at all, so long as you’re fine with its flaws, as it does what it does well enough to cover up what it doesn’t.

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