Review: Lumines Electronic Symphony
The age old idiom “If its not broke, don’t fix it” is known to be especially true of puzzle games. I mean feel free to add things, move stuff around a bit – hell, even throw in some new power ups… but if the core game-play is solid then leave it the hell alone! Lumines: Electronic Symphony for the PS Vita is a great example of this; elevation without innovation. It doesn’t add a slew of new design or features, but what it does add, streamlines an already great experience.
Lumines is a musical puzzle game, where groups of coloured blocks drop into the game area from the top of the screen in grids of 4(2×2 to be precise). The player must join four or more bricks of the same colour before the end of any given “turn”. On each “turn”, the rhythm bar (which is kind of like a metronome) passes from left to right and destroys any groupings of four or more, giving the player a score based on how many blocks were joined during that “turn”. It’s a simple concept but its the mixture of visual and aural fidelity, alongside the solid mechanics that have made Lumines such a runaway success.
I missed out on Lumines in it’s debut appearance, despite buying my PSP day one, I more than likely picked up some muck like “Dynasty Warriors 2 PSP” . My assumption now is that I saw it on the shelf and presumed it would be a by the numbers Tetris clone, full of repetitive Techno music. Its worth noting at this point in the review that I am not a huge fan of Electronic music; for some devotees of Lumines, this game without the music is like Gran Turismo without cars! When I finally played the game (this was the Xbox Live Arcade Version) I was very impressed with the game design and remember convincing one of my flat mates to buy the game, just so I could play it.
Flash forward to Lumines: Electronic Symphony.
So here we are: new Sony handheld device, new Lumines release. So what’s different about the actual game-play,t his time around? Well, there’s the addition of voyage mode, which brings some much needed structure to the overall experience. In voyage mode the player must battle through a series of varying skins, each with a unique look and feel. These skins have their own music, art, rhythm and tempo. Adding to the feeling of depth brought in with voyage mode, Lumines: Electronic Symphony has levelling mechanics, meaning players keen to unlock all this block-buster has to offer, will have to work hard.
Work, might not be the right word. Nothing in Lumines ever feels much like work. It’s quite chilled, even at its most frantic and I found it the perfect title to play on my early morning commute, when my brain just wasn’t up to tackling Uncharted or Ninja Gaiden. Using the XP earned in voyage mode, the player can buy new avatars which are more than simply visual representations of your player. They actually bring unique, power-ups into the game itself. These can be anything from pausing the rhythm bar for a set amount of time to bringing in a shuffle block next turn.
Ah yes, the shuffle block – Another of Lumines: Electronic Symphony’s additions. The shuffle block rearranges everything on the board when it comes in and can often save you from imminent death. Lumine purists will be none too happy with this block’s inclusion to the series, as after carefully setting up a series of chains only to have it all squandered by a stray shuffle block, the urge to cast your Vita across the room can be strong.
As a said earlier in the review, I’m not a huge fan of techno music but I have to say the soundtrack in this particular Lumines outing is great. It feels much more varied than before and includes over 30 licensed tracks with artists like The Chemical Brothers and Kaskade. The Audio quality is incredible and headphones will really showcase this – The Vitas speakers however struggle to truly deliver on the aural fidelity. The visuals are really nice and have no trouble showcasing the beauty of the Playstation Vitas 5″ OLED screen.
There is one major issue I have with Lumines: Electronic Symphony and that is the ridiculously long load times. This is a (relatively) simple puzzler on what is basically a portable PS3, using a flash storage based disc format. Yet the loading times are some of the worst I’ve seen on the system to date, including the nefarious Wipeout 2048. It is a real problem as Lumines is the type of game you want to be able to duck in and out of at your leisure. Its not a dealbreaker, but for a genre that thrives on accessibility, it certainly doesn’t help.
Outside of voyage there are a whole bunch of other modes in the title including Stopwatch mode, master mode and multi-player through ad-hoc play. Stopwatch mode sees the player trying to break a certain amount of blocks within a time limit. Master mode has a number of challenges, each with set difficulties and objectives that the player must overcome. I didn’t get a chance to experience ad-hoc play for this review, however I did get to play it at a trade show last year and really enjoyed it. Its everything you love about Lumines but with someone to beat; that makes everything better right? All of these modes are fun additions but for me the real meat of the game was in voyage mode, which soaked up 13 hours of my life in one 24 hour day… yeah … it’s that kind of addictive.
Luimines: Electronic Symphony excels at once again being the best puzzle game on a Sony handheld at launch. Other than some minor gripes over the unnecessarily random shuffle block and some unfortunate PSone era load times, Lumines delivers arguably one of the finest puzzle experiences this generation and definitely the best on Playstation Vita.
Overall Score: 4.5/5