So you shell out hundreds for the hottest handheld gaming hardware around, and end up playing a 2D puzzler? What's going on? Our verdict.
Arguably, PSP owners face a little quandary; they have a beautiful, powerful handheld system they've spent many a penny on, capable of some impressive 3D graphics - but they may well spend most of their time playing a 2D puzzle game.
This is Lumines - the first game from Q Entertainment, Tetsuya Mizuguchi's new game studio, and as with his previous titles, Lumines is an semi-assault on the senses. This simple puzzle title has a better soundtrack than nearly any game you'd care to mention.
Mizuguchi baffles me - I have a very short attention span; even the largest, most original games rarely get a second play through, and yet Mizuguchi can throw us a rather simple shooter like Rez and it's one of my favourite games of all time. With Lumines, once again we've found a simple yet deep Tetris-style puzzler, and I'm absolutely addicted - and it's perhaps the amazing soundtrack that's the secret.
Lumines has a large collection of fantastic house music, artists like Mondo Grosso (AKA Shinichi Osawa) and Nobuchika contribute to Lumines' stellar sound collection. There's a variety of styles so even if you're not a fan of house music there's almost guaranteed to be a song on here you like. Lumines' title track 'Shinin' is a house track that includes acoustic guitars over driving beats, all dancing around in a powerful mix which will have you wondering if this simple game could be about to do something special.
Borne out of the Tetris legacy, Lumines is a puzzle game with falling blocks made out of two different colours. Line up four blocks of the same colour to make a larger four-squared block, and it will disappear when this ever-scrolling vertical line passes it.
Still following? Good. There are six different falling arrangements for you to deal with, each in square form themselves. However, these pieces will not create gaps like in Tetris, they will break off and fit every space. You can probably get a better idea of how this actually works in the videos below.
Combos can be performed by putting lots of same coloured blocks together, racking up score multiplications, while special "gem" blocks are thrown in as well - any like coloured blocks touching the gem in a combo (edge to edge) will be cleared along with it, this can be a life saver in later levels when you have a whole screen full of blocks.
These subtle elements fused together create a very deep puzzle game. The scrolling vertical line, which sweeps across the play field, also has an important effect on the game. Your combos will only be cleared when the scrolling line passes them, but the line's speed changes depending on the music. So you see, the music isn't just there superficially; it affects the gameplay too.
On slow tracks you could fill the screen very quickly as the vertical line crawls across the screen, but you could also create some insane combos and clear the play field very easily. Likewise, when the line is moving fast across the screen it's very difficult to lock combos together as the line clears your blocks.
Rez aroused the suspicion, and now Lumines confirms it: most game designers have a long way to go to appreciate how far music can better a player's game experience. As in Rez, when you're playing well and a new element mixes into the track and the beat kicks in, your success becomes a real high - euphoria, if you like. When sight and sound blend together in a fusion of senses, even the simplest game can becomes an amazing experience.
While the music is fantastic, the visual interactivity and sound mixing aren't quite as adventurous enough as they should be; music and visuals are mixed on the fly based on how well you're doing - but you'd be forgiven for not noticing at all.
Solely as a puzzle game Lumines is an addictive, deep entry in the genre. As the game predictably become more difficult, it throws new 'skins' your way. With this setup, an average game session could last well over an hour. When you become skilled and aim for that magic 999'999 number, you're probably going to spend a hell of a lot of time with this game. Reviewers often throw around the word 'addictive' without much of a second thought, but with Lumines we really mean it. Personally, I've hardly touched the other early PSP titles, and you know what, I'm pretty pleased with my 600'000 plus score so far...
The time-consuming challenge mode isn't your only choice of play however; other modes include the hard-as-nails Versus CPU mode puts you up against (you guessed it) CPU opponents in a split-screen setup, but every time you perform a combo your opponent will get less of the screen to place his blocks. Things can get very cramped! But straight off the bat I was a tad disappointed that you always start from level 1 no matter how far you get - and this can be frustrating, as some of the CPU opponents are very hard and there is a wealth of music content to be explored and unlocked.
But while this feature could have been tightened up a little, the real meat of the game is undoubtedly superb.
(See Latest Videos & Video FAQ Here)
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Direct feed gameplay (No audio though which is admittedly retarded) (640x480, 1.2Mbps)
TGS Shakycam gameplay (640x480, 1.8Mbps)