Remember the PSP? A game that so readily defined that handheld back at its release was Lumines. Hitting at the console’s launch and forever infecting many PSPs (including my own), the block dropping puzzler has a special place for some gamers for being the PSP game. Flash forward to 2012 and a eerily similar event has happened. The gorgeous Playstation Vita has finally been uncaged for users around the world and we find Lumines Electronic Symphony ready for play on day one. Does the same charm work almost seven years later with the market being drastically different? Yes. A resounding yes.
Sequencing the falling blocks has always been Lumines‘ schtick. Taking a cue from its grandpa Tetris but adding more to the formula, blocks fall from the top of the screen with a variation of two different colors. Each block is divided into four sections and when you drop them, your goal is to create a square with matching colors to clear space as the time line passes. Let them stack up too high and you lose. Simple, I know.
Matching blocks has always been addicting because of its simple nature. Anyone can pick it up and have fun, but it takes some serious skill to consistently move past the harder stages. Along with chasing high scores, it makes the game nearly endless because of that will to get better and go further. You’ll be thinking more quickly and finding different strategies as your playtime continues. I’ve been playing Lumines for years and I still was finding ways to boost my score.
A puzzle game such as this doesn’t lend itself well to innovation, and frankly I was just expecting more of the exact same Lumines. Oddly enough, they’ve added a few worthwhile mechanics that actually fit in well with the formula.
Choosing an avatar now has a purpose. Back then, it was a glorified dressing piece, but now they have different abilities. There are a pool of different power ups for each of the unlockable avatars, making your choice more dependent on which skill you actually want rather than the one that looks the coolest. You can pick the one that yields three single-colored blocks, one that gives a life-saving shuffle block, or another that grants usage of a shuffle block; whatever best suits the way you play. Shuffle blocks are new to the series and add an interesting dynamic. True to the name, they shuffle every block they come into contact with. While neutral in plain usage, using these blocks can literally save you from death in more than a few instances. It can mess up your carefully placed combos, but a strategic Lumines player can use this new depth to maximize combos and scores.
Maximizing your score is something you’ll be doing a lot of and the game sure doesn’t let you forget. Everything you do tallies your score at the end and compares it to someone. Each time you boot up the game or end a round, your score is related to your friends, something that might push you get even better. The asyhcnonous aspects even translate to the World Block, a gigantic cube that the whole Earth chisels away at. It’s a unique, outside-of-the-box way of thinking and gives an incentive (in the form of XP) to keep going.
A few different modes are packed into Lumines Electronic Symphony, but Voyage is the main go-to. In Voyage you are cycled through dozens of skins with different songs and beats per minute. The mode loops endlessly, meaning your score can go for hours .
Repeated attempts at Voyage can make the locked order seem a bit tiresome, but that is where the other modes come into use. Stopwatch mode clocks how fast you can clear blocks, duel mode can have you go against your friends, and the playlist mode lets you make your own custom playlist of your favorite skins. All these modes are good diversions to break up the pace and give you more outlets to solve the puzzles. Master mode even has something for your inner masochist, making songs faster and harder, giving your brain a strenuous workout to the groovy tunes.
And groovy tunes they are. The musical score is great with a solid mix of tracks from a variety of artists that will get anyone to nod their head. I’d even go as far to say that this is the series’ best overall soundtrack as I was hardpressed to find a song I didn’t like. As much as I enjoy the puzzles, the way they are dressed up and presented has always been that sweet cream needed for it to become truly special and unique.
A killer soundtrack goes far but not alone in this case. Matching the audio portion well, the graphics are just as impressive. The Vita’s gorgeous screen helps the game out, as plenty of colors pop off the portable screen just to amaze your eyeballs. Each skin has a different aesthetic, mixing different colors and changing the overall tone of the game several times over. It may be a simple game, but it wears it brilliantly and results in a pretty game.
The touch screen can be a finicky feature that developers don’t know quite how to balance. It can be all too easy to force anything on it just for the sake of putting something there. Thankfully, Electronic Symphony does not suffer from these issues. Menus take full advantage of the touch screen and each one is easy to navigate. You aren’t told how to move about each because they all are incredibly intuitive and responsive.
Strangely, the back touch works just as well. When I first heard that charging your special ability would fill up more quickly by tapping the rear touch, I probably audibly rolled my eyes. Honestly, when I got to try it, I loved its implementation. By drumming the back, you can build your meter up in a faster fashion than by just letting it be. Tapping the back while dropping puzzles bent my brain in a way not previously possible and felt like patting my head and rubbing my stomach. It was an odd revelation for me when a feature as minute as this can make a puzzle game feel a bit more cerebral.
Maybe second to doing coke lines off the Vita’s sexy OLED screen, Lumines Electric Symphony is the most addicting thing possible on the handheld. It may be hard for some to drop around $40 on a portable puzzler, but when it is the portable puzzler, complaints become moot. By having classic yet enslaving puzzles and by coming at the console’s launch, it’s ridiculous to not get Lumines Electronic Symphony. Playable in small chunks or hour-long sessions, it’s the perfect portable game.
+Addictive puzzle dropping
+New additions actually improve the game
+Brilliant audio and visual presentation
-May be a tad pricy for some
Final Score: 9/10