Lumines (PSP) review
"What makes all this such a standout success however is how Mizuguchi-san has played with established genre concepts in blending the puzzle based action with his own particular passion for synaesthesia style music. The more squares you match up and cancel out the more interesting the tunes get, the faster you'll play, the deeper Lumines takes you. Catch 22, and now we're hooked!"
In amongst all the hype and hoo-ha surrounding the PSP's Japanese launch, a seemingly innocuous title such as Bandai's Lumines shouldn't of stood a chance. With both Ridge Racers and Metal Gear Acid effortlessly drawing crowds, this quaint little puzzler literally had to pull itself to the top of the charts by sheer determination and will power alone. A commendable effort then to be sure, but given its pedigree one has been left to wonder why it started life as it did, lodged firmly and squarely behind the proverbial eight ball. Developed by ex-Sega staffer Mizuguchi Tetsuya (Rez, Space Channel 5, and Sega Rally), Bandai's latest takes the proven Tetris formula of old, trims the fat and drops what's left out onto the dance floor where it grooves to a whole new beat. You'll find the lights intoxicating, the sounds exhilarating, and the gameplay... well, let's just say that 4am bedtimes will soon become the norm. Ladies & Gentlemen, the puzzle genre has just been given a new coat of psychedelic funk. Uber geek made nightclub cool. Ecstasy as always, still not recommended.
PUZZLE x MUSIC
Firstly though in order to achieve understanding, we must examine what Lumines borrows from the past in creating its groovy new future. Dull I know, but we'll try and keep things brief. Starting with the basic puzzle premise last seen in a billion Tetris clones, players are asked to arrange a random series of falling squares across a wide-screen, 16x10 play field. The thing is though, each of these 2x2 squares consists of 4 blocks of either one or two colors. And it's only by placing these squares in such a way as their blocks form another 2x2 square or larger of matching colors that players can cancel them out and thusly elevate their score. Drop, match, cancel, and repeat. Simple huh? If it sounds overly generic so far then you would of course be correct, but before we write Lumines off as being yet another journey to an all too dry well I would ask you to consider the hook. For while the core gameplay is certainly nothing we haven't seen before, players would do well to remember that they've also been asked to make a little music while they're at it. Kooky hey?
What makes all this such a standout success however is how Mizuguchi-san has played with established genre concepts in blending the puzzle based action with his own particular passion for synaesthesia style music. As squares are arranged, a "beat-line" passes across the screen from left to right, erasing anything that players have previously cancelled out. The disappearing square then generates a sound effect which blends with the music being played and voila, the electronica finally kicks in. The more squares you match up and cancel out the more interesting the tunes get, the faster you'll play, the deeper Lumines takes you. Catch 22, and now we're hooked! Toes will tap and bodies will shake, meanwhile the hours literally melt away as players find themselves lost in an auditory experience that knows no bounds. Simply... whoa. Admittedly however the concept may not be all that original. In fact, it bears an uncanny resemblance to what Mizuguchi & Co previously did with Rez, only now we're matching falling squares instead of shooting down wire frame nasties. But yeah, who can blame him for wanting to stick with a good thing?
No matter how deep or well designed a puzzle game may be though, players will always welcome the comforting peace of mind that only a healthy variety of play modes can bring. And yet again Lumines is there, strutting its stuff for all to see. Whereby the bog standard game mode has players pushing their personal best and unlocking a number of different skins with which to customize their screens with, the various challenge and puzzle options go a long way in extending the overall experience. One minute you'll be dropping squares in order to build a rather simplistic orange dog, the next you'll be looking to rack up as many points in 60 seconds as humanly possible. Whatever the challenge happens to be though, the name of the game is fun. Logical yet taxing, cold hard fun. So enjoyable is all this mental remixing in fact that it won't be long before Lumines becomes a life focusing habit, capable of invading your day to the point of obsession. Then having closed your eyes and gently drifted off to sleep, well yes... I've had that Lumines dream as well...
... *coughs* ... make of that what you will.
While you're contemplating whether or not to open up your sub-consciousness to this deviously designed Japanese masterpiece, please cast a roving eye across its utterly impressive, stylish presentation. A quasi Designer's Republic motif flows through a sleek, trimmed down interface, ultimately lending the whole shebang a highly desirable sense of cool. Flashes of hot, cherry red lips intermingle with dancing silhouettes and hypnotically mesmerizing fractals, each coming together to fuel curiosity and drive players onwards towards their next all time best. Further complimenting this visual flair is a soundtrack that's hip and happening in just the right doses. Featuring the combined talents of acid-jazz diva group Mondo Grosso and the soulful sounds of J-pop sensation Nobuchika Eri, Lumines' assorted beats are sure to see players singing the praises of the as always impressive, UMD format. But hold on, what's with this pause between BGM tracks? 3-5 seconds of unnerving silence is more than enough to break the illusion, pulling players crashing back to earth when they should be soaring through the stars. Boohoo for reality... boohoo indeed.
PUZZLE x MUSIC = GENIUS
So there you have it, the puzzle genre made cool and memorable. Who would have thought it possible? Mizuguchi Tetsuya obviously did, and has once more demonstrated why many consider him to be the boutique gamer's developer of choice. Had Lumines been designed by another, less talented individual, then chances are it would have crashed and burned without ever having realized its full potential. Thankfully however this nightmare scenario did not occur and as such gamers have been handed a present that is to be enjoyed as often as possible. That Lumines also manages to stay so familiar while breaking new ground is commendable, its influences are obvious and its heritage without equal. The combos, the special screen clearing blocks, oh yes... you're sure to pick up the rules within minutes. If you're looking to gamble with your PSP purchases come launch day then Lumines would be your dark horse in the pack. Put aside Ridge Racers and forget about Snake, there's more than enough going on here to keep you coming back for more. 10:1 says you'll love it, so don't pass it by!
* Lumines represents a new take on an old genre
* Mixing music while solving puzzles makes for an addictive experience
* A number of different play modes keeps things fresh
* Multiplayer support of course included
* There's a ton of skins to unlock
* Mondo Grosso and Nobuchika Eri have lent their talents to the project
* Its presentation screams Designer's Republic cool
* Instantly familiar gameplay welcomes players in before challenging their genre based preconceptions
* At the bargain basement price of only 3,800yen, you really have no excuse not to check it out
* Like popping ecstasy, Lumines soon becomes a life focusing experience
* The pause between audio tracks can be quite distracting
* Life. Consuming. Beware.
Staff review by Michael Scott (January 12, 2005)
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