The Lumines franchise has certainly established itself at this point, despite only arriving on the gaming scene relatively recently as part of the 2005 PlayStation Portable launch. It was an unlikely headliner for the system's inaugural lineup, but it ended up winning the hearts and minds of the gaming public as a game tailor-made for what the PSP was supposed to be at the core. In the minds of many players it is the natural successor to Tetris. Although many other installments followed, including a PSP sequel and a litany of console ports, none really managed to capture the feeling of playing the original Lumines for the first time on the PSP.
Now that Sony has its sophomore handheld effort on shelves, it would be wrong not to accompany it with a new Lumines title. Enter Lumines: Electronic Symphony, the one game every PlayStation Vita owner should make sure to get with their system.
What's It About?
Lumines: Electronic Symphony is the latest iteration of the Lumines series, and one that makes a point to show players exactly what made it so awesome in the first place. At heart, it uses the same simple concept that the 2005 debut did – an endless supply of 2×2 blocks fall from the top of the screen, the player rotates and moves them as needed to form other 2×2 (or larger) blocks of one of the two individual colors in play. Those single-color blocks are then wiped away by the timeline, which continuously slides along the screen. The speed of the timeline as well as the speed of the falling blocks is determined by the "skin" you happen to be playing on at any given time, which is influenced primarily by the music.
Electronic Symphony does change up the traditional Lumines formula a little bit. Voyage is the least changed of all, seeing only a new name in comparison to its original form. It is still the classic Challenge Mode through and through. Time Attack returns as Stopwatch Mode, but now comes in 30-, 60-, 120-, and 300-second flavors, and focuses exclusively on what kind of score you can rack up rather than how many blocks you can erase in the allotted time. Puzzle Mode is thrown out this time around, replaced by the brutal Master Mode, which isn't so much about unlocking skins as it is about surviving under some pretty harsh conditions, usually involving extremely fast-falling blocks and a sluggish timeline. Getting through Master Mode will still challenge you long after you've unlocked every skin in Voyage and joined the million-point club.
Why Should I Care?
Lumines: Electronic Symphony feels like a game carefully-built from the beginning to tap into the exact same energy that made the first Lumines so special, and to that end it is a resounding success. Voyage greets you with the game's lead-off skin, The Future of the Future, which not only makes an even better first impression than original lead-off Shinin', but manages to epitomize the entire experience that is Lumines in a single skin. The rest of the tracklist picks up that momentum beautifully, providing a great variety of aesthetic experiences, along with some sudden tough challenges.
This isn't just a repackaging of past Lumines titles, however – apart from the tweaks and changes to the game modes, some mechanics have been introduced and adjusted, as well. For example, chain blocks only used to erase all connected blocks of its color if it was part of a 2×2 square of that color. In Electronic Symphony, activating one of these chain blocks only requires one adjacent matching block, which can either be looked at as an improvement or a detriment depending on your playstyle.
A more profound change comes in the form of the shuffle block, which will completely change any mass of blocks it is in contact with when it lands. Your mileage may vary by how you play, but it can either serve as a minor inconvenience on the side of the screen, a legitimate quick way out of a bad situation, or the undoing of several minutes of hard work. More often than not, though, it seems to be directly inverse to however you're doing at any given time. If the field is nearly bare and you're in complete control, it can be just the nuisance that gets the game started in earnest. If you've spent awhile carefully-constructing a huge combo that you're about to cash in on, it's a monkeywrench that can have you on the verge of tossing your PlayStation Vita at the wall. On the other hand, if you're overwhelmed by a mass of unmatching blocks and just about to overflow the field, it can be a welcome "get out of jail free" card.
Finally, you have avatar effects. Once just a little icon in the bottom of the screen representing the player, it now has a percentage number by it that slowly ticks up to 100% as you play. Once it reaches that point, you can tap the avatar on the touch screen to activate the effect, which depends on what avatar you've chosen. This can be an on-demand shuffle or chain block, a series of single-colored blocks in the queue, or something else entirely. An avatar will get different effects in Vs mode than in single-player, although some of these Vs effects are taken from the single-player list. Others are possible as well, like speeding up the pace at which your opponent's blocks will fall from the top. In the long run, it will take a lot of time to unlock and figure out which avatar is best for how you play Lumines, but that's all just another part of the long-term value of the game.
Why Is It Worth My Time And Money?
Any game on a system launch should serve a purpose. If you want to show off your PlayStation Vita's signature features, you've got Little Deviants for that. If you want your new handheld to flex its graphical muscle, Uncharted or Wipeout fit the bill. What Electronic Symphony brings to the PSV launch is exactly what Lumines brought to the PSP launch seven years ago; a game that fits handheld gaming (and the PSP/PSV specifically) like a glove. It has plenty of meat on its bones to keep people coming back to it for months and years to come, and an undeniable aesthetic appeal to round it all out. It certainly isn't the only great game on the launch, but if you can only afford one title to go along with your PSV purchase, Lumines should be front and center among your options.