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Lumines for the Sony PSP

Reviewed March 2005 by Tony Peak

Publisher: Ubisoft / Bandai
Developer: Q Entertainment
Release Date: March, 2005
ESRB Rating: "E" for Everyone
Genre: Action
Price: $39.99

If there's one genre every system could use, it's an addictive action / puzzle game. From Tetris to Super Puzzle Fighter, Bust a Move to Devil Dice, these titles have long proven to be sleeper hits. For many, especially the non-violence crowd, they could even be considered system sellers. Thankfully, the PSP has Lumines right off the bat. Developed by Q Entertainment, founded by Tetsuya Mizuguchi, Lumines has a brilliant pedigree behind it. Mr. Mizuguchi is behind such cult hit titles as Rez, Space Channel 5, and even Sega Rally.

Gameplay

The basic premise Lumines is to take two colors of 4x4 blocks, and rearrange them as they fall into solid colored squares in tune with the beat, in the form of a solid clearing tempo bar that slides across the screen. This, by itself, doesn't sound like much. It's when you combine the amazing stage skins and music that Lumines comes alive. Each stage skin has a look completely of its own, from the backgrounds to the blocks, and the rich, often vocal music. Everything suddenly shifts between stages with no break in between. Much like Rez, each keypress, movement, and action cues rhythmic sounds and effects to put you in the game.

Where things really get interesting is for the advanced players. Lumines is made to be a chemistry of game and presentation, not so hard that it takes your attention away from the experience. So, one would assume Lumines is mainly a game for puzzle beginners. While any beginner could pick up and play Lumines, the game offers a huge amount of extras for the hardcore puzzle fans. Combos can easily be strung together into huge amounts, score bonuses reward good combing, and the game's one power block is a very advance tool. The special block in the game will erase all blocks of the same color connected to it. If a player ever clears all blocks of one color, you're rewarded with another 10,000 point bonus.

The challenge mode as I said gives you no breaks… one level streams right into the next. Every 4 levels get you a new skin, and to 'finish' the challenge mode you'll have to play through a whopping 100 levels, nonstop. This can take upwards of an hour or more of play. To unlock the games hidden stage with the vocal Lights, you must score a whopping 999,999 points. No small feat in any way, it can take upwards of just over two hours of solid play, and will take far longer to get anywhere near good enough to survive it. Several other unlockable skins are hidden in all the other modes, including Puzzle, VS CPU, and each of the time attacks.

Graphics

Lumines takes full advantage of the PSP's amazing screen with incredible backgrounds that are full of movement and life. Lasers fly around, meteors swirl overhead, stylish text flashes over the background, visualizations of the sound levels flash over the grids, colorful people dance in the background, and the entire stage just feels more alive than any puzzle game I've ever played. You won't be ignoring all this beautiful art in order to play, as everything is purposefully tuned for a perfect balance between the experience and the game itself. The art and music will almost forcibly grab your attention at times, and it's all as much a part of the gameplay as anything else.

Sound

The music plays a very important role in Lumines. The song controls the tempo of the level, the style of the stage, and generally is the hook that will keep you playing over and over. The tunes may not be for everyone, but unless you'd rather have a heavy rock dropped on your foot than listen to J-Pop, you'll probably find yourself hooked on the upbeat tunes and rhythms. Dance Dance Revolution shows that American audiences are actually quite receptive to this kind of music. I'm personally a big J-Pop fan, it's what I listen to on a daily basis, and I greatly enjoy the soundtrack of Lumines. The soundtrack is as best as I can figure unchanged from the Japanese version. Most of the songs are in English, but I believe the hidden version of Lights is indeed in Japanese.

Conclusion

Now I have just a few minor complaints to get out of the way before we wrap things up. Puzzle mode is a great throw-in for some brain twisters, but the instructions are just plain horrid. You'll likely have no idea what to do, how to win, and probably continue as such until someone shows you a solution to at least one puzzle. A simple demo could have cleared up all confusion. Documentation in general is quite lacking, nowhere that I can find does the included help tell you how exactly you advance a skin, a level, or anything. I know that every 4 levels is a new skin, but I'm still not sure on how many deletions it takes to bring about a new level. I myself counted 22 at one point, but I've seen counts of 25-30 in boards.

Finally, it would have just been incredibly cool to be able to import your own music on the Memory Stick Duo into the game. The tempo could have adjusted automatically, and the backgrounds could have been visualizations to the beat -- perhaps if there's a sequel.

Overall, for puzzle fans Lumines is a must have launch title. For non fans it's certainly one to strongly consider. Play a friend's copy, rent it, borrow it, etc. If you own a PSP, you need to try it. Mr. Mizuguchi shows once again why he's a legend in the genre of rhythmic music games, and that he's not afraid to tackle new challenges like the PSP. Other than my small complaints about the instruction, and my personal wish to import music, I have nothing bad to say about Lumines. It's easy, it's fun, it's challenging, and it's very rewarding to improve and continue playing.

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Playing Hints and Tips

- Try to group like colors so you won't be hunting for a spot with each new block. Try to keep the playing area free of clutter.

- Survival is all about organizing. Don't get overwhelmed, and stay focused.

- Blocks split when they hang over an edge. Learn to split the blocks to your advantage as needed.

- When you make a solid block, try and quickly chain on as many extra solid blocks as possible before the tempo bar passes. You can easily get 5x or 6x chains far easier once a solid has been started.

- Be careful of your timing. On fast levels, making a solid block at the wrong time when the tempo bar is passing by could cause only half of the blocks to disappear. Don't waste good combos with bad timing. On slow levels, chaining too many blocks too fast can lead to disaster.

- Try to clear as many blocks as possible with the special block. If you see one coming up, make as large of a chain as you can before hand. You'll get huge combos, and if you can have only one color left, a big score bonus as well.

Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):

Graphics

In all the years I've played puzzle games, I don't think I've ever seen one quite as alive as this. Stylish, unique, and a whole lot of fun… Lumines takes the simple concept of skins and shows what can really be done.

Sound

Not content with just good beats, Lumines features a soundtrack worthy selection of songs with vocals and all. Appearances by Mondo Grosso featuring Kj, and Eri Nobuchika. These are dang good tunes.

Fun Meter

Lumines is just a blast to play. The time attack modes give you a quick game starting at 1 minute, while the challenge mode can last over two hours. There's something for everyone here, and the Puzzle, VS CPU and VS 2P modes only add another layer to this already complete game. CPU and 2P battles are fast, frantic, and incredibly fun.

Addictivity

With 39 skins to unlock total, 100 levels in challenge mode, the ultimate test of 999,999 points, and 10 and 20 hour time unlocks, you'll be playing this one for a very long time to see it all. The game keeps you playing, and you really do get better at it as you go along. While you may decide to put aside one day, it'll be just as fresh the next time you decide to give it another play. Lumines should age very well, probably much better than many other 1st gen titles will.

Total Score= 5 Dragons, 100%



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