Rating: E10+ (Everyone 10+)
Publisher: Ubi Soft
Developer: Q Entertainment
Release Date: 03/22/2005
We all know how Tetris revolutionized the puzzle genre. Not only was it packed in for free with the highly successful Game Boy, it featured a very simple gameplay mechanic that even non-gamers could quickly learn and enjoy. Over the years, nothing’s really surpassed that…until now. Lumines is the brainchild of Tetsuya Mizuguchi (creator of Rez and Space Channel 5), and not only does it topple Tetris as the king of the puzzle world, it’s also the “killer app” for the PSP.
Lumines is not a 3D showcase. In fact, there’s no 3D graphics to be found. However, Lumines does make use of the PSP’s powerful 2D capability to great effect. Animation is tight, the graphics are razor-sharp, and the various light effects when blocks and combos break apart are dazzling.
The graphics in Lumines are a classic example of “this needs to be seen to be believed.” It’s really a work of art, especially when cascading multiple combos one after another. Topping it all off is a unique scifi style and photorealistic imagery for the various puzzle backgrounds, making Lumines a real treat for the eyes.
Revered Japanese electronica artists Mondo Grosso and Eri Nobuchika composed the soundtrack to Lumines, and a better duo couldn’t have been selected. The eclectic mix of techno, hip-hop, electro-rock, and acid jazz is one of the better mixes I’ve heard in a music-oriented game, and they really fit the overall mood and style. It’s very strongly recommended that you play this game with headphones (the PSP includes them, so you’ve got no excuse) to really get the full effect. Or, run it through a home stereo system and really make some noise!
As the various blocks and squares fall, move, and clear, there’s no generic sound effects. Rather, Lumines takes a cue from Rez, and has each sound effect become part of the background music. For example, dropping blocks down could add an extra drum kick, or a vocal sample, or a quick synthesizer tone. This enhances the overall audio experience rather than detracts from it, and really intensifies the gameplay.
Like most other puzzlers that have come before, Lumines‘ gameplay is deceptively simple. You’re given a wide well, into which large squares comprised of four smaller blocks will slowly fall. Each of those four blocks will be one of two colors; there’s six different combinations of large squares as a result. The squares can be rotated in either direction, and your ultimate goal is to match them with others in order to create large squares of a single color. You can also keep adding to the large squares once they’re set in place; the bigger they get, the more points you’ll get when the Time Line sweeps by.
The Time Line is a solid line that crosses the screen in time with the background music. Each time it passes a solid-colored square you’ve created, that square will be eliminated, and any blocks atop it will fall down accordingly. Chaining together multiple squares will create a combo, earning you many more bonuses. Combos are at the very heart of Lumines, and once you learn how to chain them effectively, you’re good to go.
Sometimes, you’ll see a block within a square that has a dot inside it. These special blocks allow you to really rake in the points, as well as clear messes off the screen. Creating a square that includes a special block will not only clear out that square, but it will also eliminate every other block of the same color that’s touching the square. Clearing out massive amounts of blocks like this (if you’re lucky) can really save your ass, especially as the levels progress and you’ve got a lot of junk filling up your screen.
When you first start up the game, you’ve got a good selection of gameplay modes available. The “main game” is Challenge Mode, where you play continously in order to unlock new “skins”. Every four levels, the background, music, and style of the blocks will change; this combination of changes is a skin. Don’t worry, it’ll still be two-color blocks dropping down, and the gameplay remains the same. The instant one skin changes to another, the new skin is then unlocked, and you can use it in certain other modes.
These include Puzzle Mode, where you attempt to form a specific geometric shape within a set timeframe; Time Attack Mode, where you’ve got 60, 180, 300, or 600 seconds to rack up as many points as possible; VS CPU mode, where you can practice your multiplayer skills against relentless computer opponents (this mode will also allow you to unlock more skins); and Single-Skin Mode, where you can pick any skin you’ve unlocked and just practice. If you’ve got friends who also own PSPs, you can try out Multiplayer Mode and chain combo them into oblivion.
Lumines is nearly infinitely replayable. Unlocking <everything the game has to offer is a rare feat indeed, especially since you need to shoot over one million points in a single sitting to get the higher-end bonuses. This isn’t as easy as it looks, and can literally take hours! Challenge Mode alone has 100 levels, for example. It’ll take hard work and dedication to “finish” Lumines, and even then, there’s always high scores to beat.
Lumines isn’t a tough game. By the same token, though, it’s not super-easy either. How difficult the game gets lies in your own mind; if your strategies suck and you just can’t create combos and whatnot, then the game may be very hard for you. But once you get the hang of it and learn to adapt to random situations quickly, the game gets smoother and more enjoyable. Lumines naturally speeds up as levels progress, but not at the exponential rate that Tetris does.
There’s been numerous puzzle games feature blocks in the past, but none like this. No other puzzle game so effortlessly brings music into the mix, either. Kudos to Mizuguchi and crew for bringing in the experts for the sound design, but keeping up the pace in terms of visual quality and ease of play.
This is what we in the review business call a “foregone conclusion.” Lumines will be your new drug. If it’s not, well, then something’s very wrong with you. Lumines is one of those games that you plan to play for five to ten minutes…and three hours later, you’re still not done. I can’t remember the last time I played a game that could captivate me like this.
Lumines was specifically engineered to appeal to a very wide audience indeed. A diverse mix of music, a simple yet engaging gameplay system, and the fact that it’s really something different than all of the other PSP games out there really make Lumines stand out. And that’s just for the casual gamers! If you look at it in terms of “serious” gaming fans, Lumines automatically appeals to quite a few groups right off the bat. Puzzle fans will love it. The Dance Dance Revolution crowd will love it. Even Sega diehards will love it, due to Mizuguchi’s work on the Dreamcast.
One thing that has many PSP gamers wary is load times. Since there’s a disc drive within the PSP, there’s going to be load times, and the shorter the better, right? Thankfully, they’re almost unnoticeable in Lumines, and many important game functions (like autosaving) take place in the background. Mix that with the slick presentation and layout of the game itself, and you’ve got puzzle perfection.
On a funnier note…there’s the whole matter of “suggestive themes.” That’s what the ESRB descriptor is for this game, even though it’s rated E10+. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what was “suggestive” about Lumines…until my fourth or fifth playthrough, when it hit me out of nowhere. There’s a song called “Shake Ya Body.” Yep. There’s your suggestive themes. Maybe ESRB’s angle was a bit different, but it’s still amusing.
Overall Score: 92/100
FINAL SCORE: 9.0 (CLASSIC!)