Review: What would a rumble between Lumines fans and Tetris fans would look like? And would it be set to techno music?
In the first few months of the PlayStation Portable's launch, the game was primarily known for the new puzzle phenomenon from Tetsuya Mizuguchi, Lumines. In fact, many PSP owners went so far as to start referring to their new handheld as a ?Lumines Machines.? Sadly, I did not think it was financially responsible to drop over $300 on a single puzzle game, no matter how addicting it was supposed to be. So that's why Lumines Plus for the PS2, a home console port of the PSP original, was a welcome sight.
For the uninitiated, Lumines is a Tetris-like puzzler that drops square puzzle pieces made up of four blocks down from the top of the screen. Each block can be one of two colors and creating a square of a single color removes those blocks from play after the ?timeline? (which moves from left to right) sweeps over them. Any blocks on top of these swept away squares will then drop down and possibly create more single-colored squares accidentally. Bonuses can also be earned by removing multiple squares in a single sweep.
Did I mention that everything (the background, the blocks and the timeline) is affected by the techno soundtrack?
This combination of elements (the background effects and the colors of the blocks) is called a ?skin.? Completing the game requires surviving every skin Tetsuya Mizuguchi and company throw at you. In some cases, this will be easy. The background is often a flat black and the blocks are some combination of white and red or white and orange; you get the picture. In other cases (like the ?Little Piano? skin), the background is very busy, with elements that blend in to the now very hard to see blocks that have changed to gray and a slightly darker shade of gray. This gameplay ?feature? is absolutely maddening at first, but once you realize these skins are the exception rather than the rule, it becomes part of the challenge to survive them and move on to bigger and better things.
While the timeline does not change its appearance in every skin, it is so named because it moves in time with the music. So during one sweep it may move very fast and cause you to miss a bonus while the next sweep could be slower and give you time to create a bunch of squares. Mastering when the music is on the march is the other major challenge of Lumines.
The search for bonus points gets really crazy when bomb blocks start dropping down. If you manage to create a single-colored square with a bomb block in it, the bomb will hook in to every same colored block touching your original square and sweep them all away in a huge chain reaction. This, in turn, causes a lot of blocks to fall further down the stack, creating more blocks, which can create more chain reactions. Mondo points.
All of this (the music, the colors, the timeline feature and the chain reactions) comes together to form a fantastic new (to me) puzzle experience. The music (courtesy of Japanese artist Mondo Grosso) complements the visuals perfectly. As someone who normally dislikes techno music, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the music. And the first skin (Shinin') is just an amazing song. It will stay in your friend for days afterwards.
Sadly, I did find that it's also possible to find success by just throwing squares down randomly. With only two colors it's easy to create plenty of squares by accident. You won't advance very far using this method, but it proves just how simple Lumines is at its core. But then, maybe that's the ingenious part.
The other part of Lumines that drives me batty (aside from my desire for a higher score) is the progression of the levels. As you play, a number in the bottom left corner keeps track of what ?level? you're on. Each new skin appears at the same level every time, but I have no idea what causes the game to advance a level? I think it's the number of squares completed but I can't figure it out and the instruction book is of no help. Of course, this is just a minor annoyance in what is an otherwise great game.
Lumines Plus also includes a few extra modes (most of which were present in the PSP version) to keep the game going. They include timed rounds, Single Skin Mode (if you just love one skin or if you feel the need to practice a certain skin) and Puzzle Mode (the game gives you a picture and you have to make it out of blocks; it's harder than it sounds). There is also a two-player Versus Mode (both against the computer or another person) that gives each player half of the screen with a divider bar down the center. Creating squares pushes the bar further and further into your opponent's side and a winner is declared once you've pushed them right out of the game. None of these modes can match the Challenge Mode (or will even take up a tenth of your playing time), but they're nice to have.