Publisher: Buena Vista Games
Developer: Q Entertainment
Release Date: November 9, 2006
Like all of the great addictions – assuming an addiction can be judged positively – Lumines is one that takes from you, little by little. It all started so innocently; alongside the launch of the PlayStation Portable came this quirky, colorful puzzle game called Lumines. Bowing to the intense pressure from my peers, I tossed down $40 for a taste. After getting over the learning curve, I started to notice that I was losing track of time – an hour here, an hour there. You tell yourself that you will only play "for a little bit," but then your battery dies and you realize that it has been four hours.
Q Entertainment, the kingpin, then went after my wallet, releasing additional versions that, while not as polished or fully featured as the original, gave me new ways to enjoy Lumines wherever I went. Now I have Lumines whenever I need it, via PSP, Xbox 360, or my mobile phone. Though the original formula is still effective, it was time for a fresh batch of the good stuff. Q Entertainment sensed the need to keep the market alive and have teamed up with Buena Vista Games to bring Lumines II to the PSP. Though it does not stray far from the addictive qualities that made it a hit in the first place, Lumines II packs enough excitement to trigger a relapse among faithful puzzlers everywhere.
Tetris has been described by many as being "like crack" in that it is feverishly addictive. However, the gameplay held within Lumines is more akin to a psychedelic or hallucinogenic experience – a little PCP for the PSP, or perhaps some LSD on your LCD. Lumines sets itself apart from the average, vanilla block-breaker by delivering an experience that is never static. Not only does the change come via the visual presentation, but also from the gameplay, which is directly affected by the active "skin."
Lumines II ratchets up the quality of the visuals by several notches with its use of streaming video backgrounds. To give the game more of a mainstream edge, Q enlisted the talents of some of the quirkier pop artists on the scene, including Gwen Stefani, Beck, and Missy Elliott. Stefani's brilliantly bizarre hit "Hollaback Girl" bumps through your speakers while the video plays in the background, behind the blocks. Like most music snobs, I do not count Hoobastank or the Black Eyed Peas among my favorites, but there is some legitimately great music among the 21 licensed tracks in Lumines II. Genki Rockets' "Heavenly Star," penned and produced by Lumines designer Tetsuya Mizuguchi, is totally my new jam.
Visuals aside, what really sells Lumines is the quality of the gameplay, which is unbeaten by similar genre entries. Lumines is fast-paced and deceptively difficult, and your success will largely depend on how well (and how quickly) you can create combos. Gameplay takes place on a 10x16 board, which is quite suitable for the widescreen display of the PSP. A 2x2 square, comprised of four smaller blocks, emerges from the top of the screen and heads toward the base. Each skin has two differently colored blocks, so your square might have two of each color, or three of one color and one of the other, or any other combination that adds up to four, including four of one color.
The goal in Lumines is ultimately to create squares of a solid color on the game board, but your ability to do so is affected by two aspects that change with each skin: how fast the squares fall from the top, and how quickly the Time Line erases the created squares on the board. Created squares do not automatically disappear – the Time Line, which moves across the screen from the left, will clear any created squares in its wake. The inclusion of the Time Line allows you to add onto your created squares, thus forming combos that will net you huge points.
If you create a square of four white blocks, you can add two more white blocks to the right of it to create an additional square. It may look like a rectangle to you, but the game sees it as two squares that share blocks in the middle. The speed of the falling squares, combined with the movement of the Time Line, will decide how difficult a particular part of the game will be. Each skin's duration is tied directly to the length of the song, so you will typically see a change after three or four minutes. Lumines II does nothing to change the core gameplay of the original, so if you played Lumines, you can jump right into its successor.
Becoming a great player depends largely on how well you can combo sets of squares together before the Time Line erases them from the screen. The game ends when you run out of space to drop a descending square, so you must work quickly and efficiently. If you find yourself without a lot of options, make sure you stack the falling squares in a way that keeps like colors connected. Occasionally, you will be given a square that contains a chain reaction block, which allows you to eliminate all connected blocks of a single color. The effective use of these blocks in tight situations will determine how long your play session lasts.
Challenge mode is still the main event in Lumines II, though it now comes in three varieties: class A, class B, and class S. I did not note any particular variance in difficulty between the classes, though each class has its own set of skins through which you can work. If you can get through every skin in all three classes, you can also unlock Enduro mode, which features every skin from the three classes. Skin Edit mode takes the place of the Single Skin mode of the original, allowing you to choose a "playlist" of skins to play through, either one at a time or in an endless loop.
The Time Attack and Puzzle modes both return from Lumines, while the Mission mode makes its first portable appearance after debuting in Lumines Live! for the Xbox 360. The VS CPU mode from the original also makes a comeback, featuring unique stages not found in Challenge mode, in which the game board in split in two, pitting you against the computer in a fight for both space and supremacy. The VS CPU mode can be rather difficult at times, but the 10 stages fly by in a flash. I would love to see it expanded in the future.
Lumines II also features a music sequencer mode that allows you to create your own background music and sound effects. While fairly versatile, I doubt that it will be a major selling point for this puzzler.
Lumines II would be perfect for head-to-head multiplayer battles, but like the majority of PSP releases, the title lacks Infrastructure support. While you can still play with a nearby buddy via Ad Hoc wireless (and with Game Sharing, to boot), the lack of true online play seems a travesty for a high-profile game of this quality.
Lumines II may not reinvent the wheel, but it takes that vaguely attractive wheel, gives it a facelift, and turns it into a beauty queen. The new visual style and the addition of streaming video make Lumines II an even more immersive game than its predecessor. While the lack of online play or significant gameplay additions keep Lumines II from receiving the score of an all-time great, make no mistake: This is one of the best puzzlers to ever grace a game system. It just never feels entirely necessary, especially for those who were not overwhelmed by the original. Still, if you have been feeling the symptoms of withdrawal, hit up your local pusher (or retailer) and take a trip with Lumines II.
More articles about Lumines II