One of the PSP’s most enduring legacies came in the form of a quirky launch title called Lumines: Puzzle Fusion. The game was lauded for providing a fresh take on the falling blocks puzzle genre, and for its unique blend of electronic music with bright techno-inspired visuals. Since then, Lumines has found a home on many different platforms but at long last the series returns to its roots to herald the launch of a new PlayStation handheld with the sleek new entry, Lumines: Electronic Symphony. Thankfully, Electronic Symphony follows in the footsteps of its predecessor by being one of the bright spots of the Vita’s launch line up, even if it no longer shines quite as brightly thanks to content issues.
If you are new to Lumines, here is a brief summary of what’s in store: Two-by-two blocks composed of either one or two color schemes fall onto a grid-based playing field, where the objective is to create as many four square blocks with one solid color as possible. Adjacent pairs of similar colored squares increase the size of the blocks and can be chained together to achieve the maximum points possible. All of this occurs while a metronome-like line sweeps across the grid clearing away the blocks you’ve created. The blocks can slide off the edge of other blocks, expanding to fill the space allotted and leaving no gaps. All of this takes place against the background of an energetic soundtrack and trippy visuals.
The controls could not be any simpler. The D-pad (or left analog stick) moves the blocks left, right, or down, while the face buttons rotate the falling squares. Alternatively, you can use the Vita’s touchscreen to drag the square in your preferred direction and tap on it to rotate, but the default controls are so much more comfortable and effective that this input method comes off as little more than a novelty.
A few changes have been made to mix up the formula. Your avatar no longer just sits there in the corner of the screen. They now come with their own special abilities to provide help while playing, such as shuffling the position of the blocks on the playing area or momentarily freezing the timeline. By tapping the rear touchpad you will decrease the time it takes to earn and subsequently activate your avatar’s unique ability. While using these powerups greatly increases your scoring potential, putting too much energy into earning them manually can distract you from the core gameplay.
Lumines has always featured top of the line presentation, and Electronic Symphony is no exception. The touch-based menu interface works remarkably well in addition to being sleek. You wouldn’t expect a puzzle game to take advantage of the extra graphical horsepower offered by the fancy new PlayStation Vita but in this case you would be egregiously mistaken. Q Entertainment has made one of the most beautiful looking games on the Vita. The game features so many new dazzling visual effects that you are sufficiently convinced that it takes advantage of the Vita’s horsepower. The skins display varied scenes such as a giant robot destroying a city, whimsical cardboard rockets blasting off into space, and windmills blowing in the breeze, and yet manages to make it work each time.
Sound is such an integral part of Lumines’ appeal and as such you should not dare attempt to play this game without a decent pair of quality headphones. Only then will you be able to appreciate the sophistication of the musical mix. Better yet, if you are really committed and can find a way to hook up your Vita to your home sound system I suggest you do so and prepare to indulge in high-fidelity audio bliss. Even if you're normally not a fan of electronic music, Lumines: Electronic Symphony has the power to change your mind. The soundtrack consists of 34 tracks from artists such as The Chemical Brothers, Kaskade, Air, and LCD Soundsystem. “Good Girl” by Benny Benassi, “Apollo Throwdown” by The Go! Team, and “The Future of the Future” by Everything But the Girl are just a few of my personal favorites.
At the heart of Lumines: Electronic Symphony is a surprisingly deep leveling system. You earn XP relative to your score across all game modes. As you level up you unlock more avatars and skins to experiment with. At first, leveling up is a swift and easy process but once you begin reaching the higher levels more XP will be required to advance. The game has a level cap of 50 at which point you will have unlocked all skills and avatars. Your level also functions as a meter to compare yourself with fellow players on your Friends List, which displays scores in real time when connected to PSN.
The main course this time around is the Voyage mode and, as the name suggests, it is a real trip. This mode is a tour through an eclectic mix of mesmerizing sights and sounds while you try to amass the highest possible score without failing. Voyage lasts approximately 90 minutes before it starts repeating, not that you would ever mind revisiting any of the preceding skins. The experience comes off as inspired and carefully arranged. The variations in tempo, musical style, and visual presentation between the different skins are executed gracefully and serve to enhance the hypnotic effect of this delightful mode.
If you really want to test your block busting skills, look no further than Electronic Symphony’s Master Mode. Consisting of five stages of escalating difficulty, Master Mode challenges how fast you can think on your feet without the aid of your trusty avatar’s powerups. The game also has a Stopwatch mode, where you can see how many blocks you can clear in intervals of 30, 60, 180, and 300 seconds. Both modes offer unique ways to tailor your Lumines experience and feature music and skins not available in any other mode. Speaking of skins, you can play through your favorites on your own terms in any order you want in the game’s Playlist mode.
Unfortunately, Lumines can no longer hide behind the mask of originality to cover up for the noticeable lack of content it provides. The puzzle mode from previous entries, wherein you would have to arrange blocks so a single color would match a desired shape, has been axed. Furthermore, you no longer have the option to duel against AI controlled opponents, and seeing as head-to-head online is also missing, the only way to play is with someone in your immediate vicinity. The game’s online features do, however, allow you to view how you stack up on the various leaderboards.
The game’s lack of value is perhaps best reflected in the small number of trophies it has to offer. Normally I do not take things like this into account but there are only 13 of them, not including a platinum trophy, which is a very puzzling oversight for a “full game” that will set you back $40 at retail ($34.99 on PSN). Of course, as a puzzle game, Lumines: Electronic Symphony offers essentially unlimited replayability for those incapable of passing up the ruthlessly addictive gameplay. But the small variety of game modes undermines this once irresistible attribute.
Lumines: Electronic Symphony is definitely a game every Vita owner should consider playing, especially series newcomers. This game offers one of the most pleasant audio-visual experiences available anywhere. Sadly, the gameplay has not kept up with the freshness of the presentation. When all is said and done, there are only so many different ways you can arrange falling blocks and the Electronic Symphony could definitely have done more to offer greater bang for your buck. All complaints aside, Lumines is still a unique combination of music to the ears and magic at your fingertips.
This review is based on a retail copy of Lumines: Electronic Symphony for the PlayStation Vita.