Lumines: Electronic Symphony is like crack. You can tell yourself you’re going to play for just a few minutes, just until you get to your train stop, or just until your lunch break is over. You can swear that once you hit that hour mark you’ll turn off the game and go set to rights your unkempt apartment. You can put down your Vita and walk away from it for a few minutes while you get to that meal you’ve neglected to eat, but before you can wipe the grease off your fingers you’re back on the couch, Vita in hand, cranking away at Lumines like your life depends on it.
If you thought the first Lumines was addictive, you won’t believe the untold hours you’ll probably sink into Electronic Symphony. This is several steps up from the original, the good, hard stuff. It’s difficult and challenging and there is no good way to walk away from it without dreaming of those little squares falling into place as frantic techno rocks your eardrums.
This game should be at the top of your purchase list, and if you’ve already picked up a Vita but not Lumines then shame on you, you’re doing it wrong. This incarnation of Q Entertainment’s rhythmic block-dropping puzzle game takes the original formula and somehow takes it from awesome to superb. Divine, even. It’s fundamentally the same game, but with the addition of a teeth-gnashingly good soundtrack and a few aesthetically satisfying tweaks you are guaranteed to become that kid with carpal tunnel in the corner at parties, wondering when you can get your next hit in.
Lumines goes a little like Tetris but without the frustratingly varied shapes. Players are given blocks of four squares in any combination of two colors. These blocks must be strategically dropped to create squares or rectangles of same-colored blocks. These single-colored blocked will clear from the screen and allow the player room to drop more blocks. The block-dropped action must be timed to coincide with the beat of the background and is measured by a “clear bar” that scans the field every measure (that’s four beats). Simple, yes. But simplicity, especially with something so deceptively so, is what makes you second-guess yourself and continue pushing for that high score.
But the block-dropping shenanigans are only part of the equation that makes Lumines a must-have. Over thirty heart-pounding toe-tapping tracks and captivating background visuals make this game a real treat to play, a true piece of cinematic eye-candy and a gorgeous soundscape to play to.
The folks at Q have added a couple features to spice things up, including upgrading the silly little avatar into a functioning boost. Filling up your meter and tapping your avatar grants the use of a special ability. This can include anything from slowing the rate at which blocks fall, changing your next block into a bonus block, or stopping the timeline. These avatar abilities are earned as your level increases and you unlock more songs. Even a tweak this small provides an amazing amount of variation and challenge in a formula already inches away from perfection.
Another tweak is the shuffle block, a shimmering savior that, once dropped onto the pile, randomly changes the color of all blocks on the field. This isn’t as infuriating as it sounds, I promise. Often a shuffle block will clear a good portion of the field, and if you find yourself in a tight spot one of these little babies is a godsend.
If you’re playing Lumines while logged into the PlayStation Network, your games, stats, and EXP will be tracked by your profile. Players can unlock new avatars and other fun bonuses, share scores with friends, and check out a leaderboard that lets you know where you stand against them — as well as where you stand in Lumines worldwide. With this level of connectivity Lumines could easily become one of the better competitive titles for the Vita, if not the best.
There are a handful of modes, including a challenging Master mode, race-against-the-clock Stopwatch mode, and the fun multiplayer Duel mode. But no doubt the mode that will eat up most of your waking hours is the Voyage mode, a play-til-you-drop challenge that begs you to play through the game’s entire playlist until you either fill up the screen or give up. If you’re not prepared to sink several hours into a Voyage just for a spot on the leaderboard, then you may want to stick with the more tame Playlist mode, a classic returning from the original Lumines title.
The one big miss for Lumines is its rather poor use of the touchscreen controls. Players can swipe to slide and drop blocks, a mechanic which does not pair well with faster levels. If you have especially wide fingertips you are most definitely screwed, as trying to arrange blocks with your finger to the frenetic bass of a techno whirlwind will only result in disaster. As a title developed exclusively for the Vita, and with the console’s big ticket being its dual touch screens, I’m not entirely pleased that this game’s use of them clumsily fell through the cracks.
In the end, Lumines is one beautiful game with near-flawless grace and astounding replay value. New gameplay twists and almost ridiculous connectivity possibilities should guarantee a spot for the game on every Vita owner’s memory card. The soundtrack is tighter, with not a dull tune in the pack, and the visuals swirling around behind the block-dropping action are truly gorgeous. This game should have been bundled with the Vita, mark my words. Electronic Symphony is a must have, an addictive addition to the gaming library of both old and new Lumines players, a true and stunning achievement in game design and execution.