If you are not a fan of electronic music, then the name of this game should serve as a warning. Every gaming system, from the high-powered consoles to the low-powered “dumb” phones, needs a puzzle game. It is an unwritten law, and an unbroken one as well. Ever since Tetris showed us how it’s done, the puzzle game genre has been consistent. None have come close to hitting the heights that Tetris hit, but neither have most games, regardless of genre.
So if you are in the market for a puzzle game, and you find yourself in possession of a new Vita, Lumines Electronic Symphony may be worth a look.
But seriously, if you don’t like electronic music, this game has very little to offer you.
The puzzle set up is simple enough, in theory. You have a square with four boxes that lowers from the top. There are two colors possible in each box, the colors can appear in any variation in the box (two of each color, four of one color, three and one), and you can turn the boxes by hitting a button. The goal is to try to match up four of the same color into a square. When you do, it deletes the square and the pieces above come down. The higher the level, the faster the pieces go. While the exact method of the puzzle is unique, anyone who has played Tetris or any of the thousands of games that came after will have a certain level of familiarity.
In explanation it is fairly straightforward, but there is a catch. The music and the design are linked together, so when you hit the 100-percent completion mark on one board, a new song and an entirely different look begin. That may sound like a minor deal, but watching the squares change from white and gold boxes to blue and yellow circles takes a minute to process. If you like, you can also use the Vita’s touchscreen to rotate the blocks. When things speed up though, the touchscreen isn’t fast enough to keep up and you’ll need to switch back to the standard buttons and d-pad.
The real selling point of the game is the music, although I admit to already having an affinity for electronica, and hearing musicians like LCD Soundsystem, The Chemical Brothers, and B.T. was already kind of my bag to begin with. With 34 separate tracks, there is a lot of music here. Mixing in the inherent changing nature of the puzzles means that the variety can be incredible.
Along with a main play mode called “Voyage” that changes songs and designs once you hit a certain point and continues until you lose, there are a selection of other modes including a time attack, a duel with another person via ad-hoc multiplayer, and a challenge mode. A worldwide leader board lets you aspire you aspire to compete with the best, and your friends’ scores are displayed. There is also the option to pick the songs you want in a custom match, which is a smart addition for a game that is proud of its soundtrack.
But take away the music, ignore the fancy design changes, and you are left with a puzzle game that is fun and addicting, but not for everyone. The color recognition is a nice twist, but as the speed picks up, it gets to a point where it is almost impossible to tell where you need to place the pieces, and before you know it, you are done. There just comes a point after a few changes in the game pieces where the speed picks up and there is almost no chance other than luck. It is essentially the Kobayashi-Maru of puzzle games, there is no way to win.
One of the great things about Tetris was that you always felt like you could win. You couldn’t, but you could be forgiven for fooling yourself into thinking you could. You don’t have that luxury with Lumines. The result is a game that is fun as long as you are into the music. If you hate the music, you will hate the game.
And yet despite it all, if you do like the music than you are in for an incredibly addictive experience. Even after losing more times than I could count, I was drawn back to the game, eager to try my luck again. And really, that is the measure of a good puzzle game: how addictive it is.
It is impossible to beat Lumines, and if you can, you are a freak of nature. There are probably a few people out there that will love the challenge and possibly even excel at it, but the majority will play for a few minutes and hit a wall. The true brilliance of Lumines is that even after losing you will want to jump back in. The presentation makes each new board feel fresh and original, even when it is really just the same game with a new soundtrack and a different look.
It is easy to become totally obsessed with this game, in a good way. If you enjoyed the PSP version, you will love Lumines Electronic Symphony. If you are looking for a good puzzle game for the Vita, this is not just the best launch title puzzle game, but a good puzzle game, period — hard, but good. Assuming you like (or at least tolerate) electronic music, then this game should be on your radar.
Score 8.5 out of 10
(This game was reviewed on the PlayStation Vita on a copy provided by Ubisoft)