Lumines II (PSP) review
"For each moment where you’re groaning as things pile so high that you don’t stand a chance, you’ll find moments where you sneak that piece in place just in time and watch a combo clear half the screen out of your way. Playing a single round for very long is difficult when you’re new, but there are definite rewards if you take the time to get better. Only by surviving a good long while can you hear all of the music and unlock the available skins."
When I play Lumines II, I can almost hear a voice saying “We can build it bigger, stronger, faster.” That’s all the game really is: more of the same but on a larger and more impressive scale. Of course, more of a really good thing… is good. It’s just not particularly original.
In case you’re not aware, Lumines was one of the most popular titles in the PSP’s early library. It remains one of the best games for the system, and the sequel builds on that in the form of more skins (so many you almost won’t know what to do with yourself) new music and the same block manipulation you remember from last time around. Take away the new skins the sequel boasts and what do you really have that’s different from the original? Nothing terribly important.
So, what is the fundamental gameplay objective? Well, it’s not so different from Tetris. As cool music beats in the background, you manage blocks that slowly drop from the top of the screen. They consist of four squares, kind of like an unfolded napkin. Each square will be one of two colors, depending on the stage. You won’t see a block made up of a single hue a whole lot more frequently than you’d expect to find an ‘L’ block in Tetris.
In any event, the blocks fall at a steady rate and your job is to clear them before they stack up to the top of the screen. You have a lot more space available to you than you did in Tetris, but clearing away debris is here is also a bit more complex. Each piece that falls must be shuffled about to set things up so that you eventually get four adjacent pieces of a single color. When you do, they’ll start to flash. That’s when things get good.
The blocks will keep flashing for awhile, leaving you time enough to break in with a combo. There’s a slider that slowly crosses the screen, making the rounds. If you’re anxious to boost your score, you’ll slowly let a block fall until just after the slider passes, then set a plan into motion. Settled blocks will flash all over the place as you drop new ones like a madman, filling in holes so that your score can skyrocket. Then, when that slider passes by again, everything will clear and you’ll have more room to work with as the shower of blocks continues.
It might not sound like much on paper, but Lumines truly was one of the better of the many Tetris clones available. Early stages move slowly enough that you’ll have plenty of time to consider where you want to place each piece, but you’ll eventually find yourself buried under mountains of falling pieces with no idea where to put them. The frantic rush is addictive. For each moment where you’re groaning as things pile so high that you don’t stand a chance, you’ll find moments where you sneak that piece in place just in time and watch a combo clear half the screen out of your way. Playing a single round for very long is difficult when you’re new, but there are definite rewards if you take the time to get better. Only by surviving a good long while can you hear all of the music and unlock the available skins.
As you place blocks, weird songs play in the background. Some of them are just your standard techno nonsense, but other types of music are represented. The amount of variety in this version of the game is more significant than it was before. You’ll most likely come to love some songs and the way they meld perfectly with the visual hues on-screen, but you’ll almost certainly hate others. Fortunately, each of three available difficulty levels comes with its own set of music. If you really hate an early song in one group, you can skip it by choosing a different batch of music.
Most people will end up playing extensively in all three areas, however. That’s because Lumines II does the same thing its predecessor does: it hooks you in with great gameplay and it keeps you playing with the promise of new skins. New stages are more than just a number; they’re a chance to hear new music, see new visual schemes and even watch videos.
Yes, Lumines II features music videos. They play in the background, sometimes to the point of distraction (as in the case of one of my favorites, which features a guy’s hands striking the keys on an old typewriter). For some reason they’re cooler than you might think due to the falling blocks. There’s no way I’d watch most of the available selections on television, but I found that they truly do work well within the context of the game. They lend it artistry and polish that help you to forget about how the gameplay you find so entrancing was technically possible on 16-bit systems.
Besides videos, Lumines II introduces the ‘Mission Mode,’ which gives you specific objectives you must accomplish. For example, early stages ask you to clear a few blocks out of the way using only one piece. That’s pretty easy, but then they add new wrinkles and suddenly you’re juggling a few blocks, or working to clear a column within a solid wall of poorly-placed blocks. There aren’t many assignments, but they’re definitely something to keep you entertained when you tire of the main game. Just don’t expect to spend much time with the puzzles and you’ll most likely be plenty satisfied.
As for everything else, well, it’s pretty much the same as the original. You can challenge yourself to clear the most blocks in a minute or two, play some familiar puzzles and battle against friends. You can even wirelessly send them a trial version of the game, if you’re so inclined, or play a demo for another Buena Vista Games project, Every Extend Extra. There’s enough here to keep you busy for hours, enough to unlock that you’ll probably play for weeks before you see it all. As such, Lumines II is highly recommended for those of you that never picked up the original and even for those who did but want more variety. Whether video, a bunch of new skins, a mission mode and an excuse to start all over again are really worth $30 or not is something you’ll have to decide for yourself. Me, I say they are.
Staff review by Jason Venter (December 02, 2006)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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