A good puzzle game is essential for any handheld console as anyone who has played Tetris on Gameboy can attest. Although it’s the great grandfather of block based puzzle games it’s still one of the best, right alongside newer classics like Columns and Puyo Puyo. While any one of these games would have been brilliant on PSP I’m glad to see that someone actually had the guts to try something new with the formula and the result is another classic puzzle game and one of the finest games on PSP.
At first glance Lumines might not look like much but if you’ve ever played a puzzle game before in your life you should know that first impressions rarely convey the depths these games have. The gameplay is pretty straight forward and once again you have to clear the screen of falling blocks by matching up same colored squares. What might surprise some people is that all the blocks are the same shape and only consist of two different colors. While this might make the game sound preposterously easy nothing could be further from the truth. The goal is simply to line up four or more same colored blocks but instead of instantly disappearing you have a timeline that moves from left to right across the screen and only when it touches these highlighted blocks do they disappear. This aspect changes the gameplay significantly from Tetris and its ilk and allows much greater scope for combos and tactics. It also leaves you with more troubles as on later levels the blocks not only drop from the sky faster but the time line moves slower giving you more time to build up big combos but also increasing your risk of running out of space.
Besides the addictive single player mode where you can unlock new skins and characters the game also has a two player versus mode where you can link up and take on a friend. If you don’t have friends with a copy of the game you can always take on the CPU in a vs mode but strangely while I usually enjoy this aspect of puzzle games the most in Lumines I didn’t really spend too much time with this mode. Maybe it’s because you can’t continue and have to start from scratch when you are defeated by a CPU foe or the fact that this mode can get horribly tough but nevertheless it’s a welcome and challenging addition. There is also a “Puzzle” mode where you are tasked with creating certain shapes within a time limit. While this might sound easy things soon get very complicated and while also not the greatest mode in this game it will provide you with plenty of challenges.
The subtitle for Lumines is “Puzzle Fusion” and the reason for this soon becomes clear once you start playing the game. Both the graphics and music play a big role in the overall experience and everything ties together perfectly. At first it might just seem like you have a cool background and some nice music happening while you play, but after a while you’ll start noticing that the way you play actually influences both of these. The game is very music oriented and almost all of your actions will result in some sort of audio or visual feedback. It’s cool to hear the music change depending on how good or bad you are playing and every time you go up a level the whole “skin” of the game changes giving the game a brand new look and feel. All of these skins are unlocked while playing so you can play on them in “single skin mode”. Even in the VS CPU mode every opponent you face has its own skin for the board. Get ready to face off against aliens, robots, mice, vampires and a whole host of other freaks.
The music in Lumines is mostly some dance or techno sounding tunes but they fit the nature of the game perfectly and after a couple of hours of playing will be stuck in your head. You’ll want to play the game with your headphones on to get the most out of it. The graphics can become psychedelic to say the least and some backgrounds can be quite distracting while you’re playing. You’ll be so focused on playing the game you won’t even notice half the things that are going on the in background though.
While Lumines isn’t perfect it’s still a damn good game and once you start playing it’s hard to stop until you beat your old highscore or unlock a new skin. While later levels can become brutally hard and getting your head out of that old Tetris mindset takes some time this is a brilliant game that’s not only essential to puzzle games, but belongs in any self respecting gamers collection. This is the perfect game to take on a long journey with you.
*Review originally published 2005.