Is it wrong to moan that a puzzle game so heavily focused on sound and music can’t manage to blend two tracks together? When a song ends in Lumines, there’s an abrupt switch to the next one, temporarily breaking the flow of your ‘Voyage’ with a jarring, sudden cross fade. When the producer, James Mielke, is himself a DJ, it’s even more frustrating. Thankfully, though, apart from a couple of missing modes, that’s probably the one single complaint I can find.
Because, happily, Lumines on Vita is otherwise great. The soundtrack speaks for itself, the single player kicking off with the Deep Dish classic Stay Gold before moving through dirty disco, electro and some classic house. There’s even a brief stay in Ibiza early on, Kaskade’s 4AM a beautiful track to play against, subtle moods and floating strings making way for more traditional 4/4 beats after its temporary, blissful reprise.[drop]Voyage, as the main single player is known, attempts to take you on a musical journey, albeit one consisting of cleverly looped segments awaiting your input. When it works, it’s a thrilling ride, everything locking into place and the tunes coming thick and fast; when it doesn’t, and you’re stuck looking for squares to build, the ad infinitum repetition of a single bar grates quickly. Never before have I heard the words “Hey Boy, Hey Girl” so often.
But that’s not the fault of the game, it’s all down to the skill of the player. Lumines fans will eat this up and fly through the game, the difficulty curve as smooth as ever, but those unfamiliar will likely face frustration. The concept, that the player must create squares at least 2×2 blocks in size out of other falling blocks, is simple, but mapping the mechanics to a perpetual ‘beat bar’ means you’ll need to also feel the rhythm to succeed.
It is, in the hands of a good player, a mesmerising experience. It’s possible to be really good at Lumines, the game 99% skill and 1% luck rather than a more unfair balance seen in lots of other puzzle games; mainly because there’s only a limited amount of combinations of a 2×2 square that can drop, it’s trivial, given time, to learn principles for each block type and where to place them in a given situation, creating lines, combos and patterns with ease.[drop2]This all comes with practice, but don’t underestimate the commitment – it takes time. Until then, until you get into how Lumines wants you to play, scores will be low and you’ll not unlock much of Voyage, let alone the rest of the game, meaning you’ll be hearing Stay Gold much more than you thought you might be – persevere, read about the tactics required online, and stick with it, the reward is more than worth it. Once you start to get into the flow, Electronic Symphony becomes incredibly addictive.
The core idea is so solid that there isn’t really any need for any other gimmicks, although this latest game uses the previously pointless avatars as special power-ups, such as making the next block a special one (like the chain block, which eliminates all blocks of the same colour attached) which gradually become ready over time, or can be coaxed into live sooner by repeatedly tapping the rear touch screen. A single other new addition – the randomising block – really mixes things up when it lands. Literally.
Sadly, despite ad-hoc multiplayer (which is always fun) there’s no online, no challenge mode, no puzzle mode, not even the ability to play against the AI. There’s a global, cute little diversion where all your squares eliminated are added to everyone else’s as you try to destroy a huge block daily, a few time trials and there’s a Master mode which offers a side game with five increasingly difficult zones. Hopefully the bits missing will appear as DLC.
- Brilliant soundtrack, one of the best ever
- Looks great
- Online leaderboards
- Poor mixing between tracks
- Some missing modes and no online battle mode
The PSP launched with the first Lumines and I was happy with just that single game for well over a month. The Vita has a much stronger launch line-up, but Electronic Symphony still manages to shine, and it’s easily one of the better titles on the system. If you’ve any love for electronic music then the soundtrack alone is probably worth it, but as a puzzler there simply isn’t anything else around that even comes close. Essential day one stuff.