Lumines: Electronic Symphony PS Vita Review
When a unique, singular game comes out and leaves a big impression on you, it’s difficult to know how to approach its sequels. Mechanics can be improved upon, but that overwhelming feeling you get from a genuinely surprising experience is impossible to quantify – let alone box and re-sell. The first Lumines – the PSP game from 2005 – had a tremendous impact on me, and quickly cemented itself as one of my favourite games of all time. Suffice to say, it is with some reservations that I endeavour to review this, the fifth game in the series.
Lumines‘ premise is similar to any block puzzle game. Dual coloured blocks – made up of four smaller squares – fall from above, and it’s your job to clear them from the screen. When you arrange the blocks so that four or more squares of the same colour touch, they form a chain. A “time line”; a literal line that sweeps across the screen from left to right in rhythm with the music, then removes the blocks you’ve chained together.
The bigger chain you make before the time line sweeps across the screen, the more points you gather. As a beginner, you will probably have a hard time simply linking blocks together consistently, but, when you get better and start creating chains from left to right while the time line follows close behind, there’s a soothing, rhythmical frenzy to Lumines.
Electronic Symphony introduces a few modest gameplay additions. The returning “Chain Block” creates a chain as soon as single squares of the same colour touch. New to this game, the “Shuffle Block” jumbles the squares in a formation of blocks. This may break any chains you’ve set up, but if you’re lucky it creates a large number of chains of its own. Also, your chosen avatar – which you select at the start of the game – now has a special “power” associated with it. As you remove blocks, a gauge – represented by an icon at the bottom left of the screen – is charged. When fully powered up you can touch the icon to unleash its stored ability. These power-ups can conjure up different block types – like the aforementioned chain and shuffle blocks – or simply provide consecutive blocks of the same colour for a limited time.
Game modes are kept few and simple. Your main mode is “Voyage”, which sends you on a visual/aural journey through all of the game’s levels – or “skins”. This mode wraps back around after roughly an hour, continuing indefinitely provided that you keep clearing the screen. There are also Duel, Playlist, Stopwatch and the new “Master” mode. Duel is a tug-of-war variation on the main game, played with a buddy via local wifi. Playlist lets you play unlocked skins of your choice in any order. Stopwatch gives you a set time to clear as many blocks as you can. Finally, Master mode is an intense test of your Lumines prowess, throwing you into five “Zones”, each with a higher tempo and number of blocks to clear.
Clearing blocks also contributes to the “World Block” aspect of the game – a global, daily race to clear a gigantic block made up of 2,000,000 pieces.
It’s fitting that Lumines: Electronic Symphony is a Vita launch game. They say two points make a line, not a pattern, but after its initial PSP debut it only seems right that we get a new Lumines with our new portable Playstation system on day one. In fact, for many gamers, Lumines stayed the de-facto PSP game throughout its entire life cycle, with its UMD media nearly fusing with their PSP systems. With digital releases of Lumines 1 and 2 stuck in licensing hell, Electronic Symphony’s availability as a Playstation Store download is therefore quite a boon, potentially always sitting in wait on your console.
But one can easily argue that there’s lacking value in this rather lightweight proposition – and yes this is partially me begrudgingly making price considerations. Modes could be more plentiful, and its multiplayer component could easily have allowed duking it out online. The Puzzle mode – present in every prior Lumines – is inexplicably completely missing. At the same time, there is a coherency and sense of auteur-ism to this package – a vision missing after creator Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s original. Not only is the song selection excellent, and a far cry from the tacky public domain-esque tracks in the XBLA and PSN releases, the music has a deliberate ebb and flow to it in Voyage mode. It changes in rhythm and mood between skins, but operates within an overarching theme and never feels jarring. We’re long past the Hoobastanks and Gwen Stefanis of Lumines 2, thank God.
I feel compelled to add that the omission of a “Lights” or “Heavenly Star” style finale – or even a discernible attempt at an equivalent – to the main mode is more upsetting to me than I care to admit. In lieu of these defining musical send-offs from the PSP games, the game rather unceremoniously plops you back at the beginning, with a trophy pop-up as the most prominent indicator that you ran out of Lumines.
So, Electronic Symphony is not the ultimate Lumines, then, but newcomers will be blissfully unaware, and to old fans this game remains essential regardless. Scarcity notwithstanding, it is still one of the finest puzzle games there are, by virtue of simply being Lumines.