Puzzle games have been a staple on handhelds since Nintendo first packaged Tetris in with their old black and white GameBoy. It’s the genre with the broadest appeal, enjoyed by everybody from hardcore gamers to casual gamers to non-gamers. You can always expect to see a puzzle game at or around the time of the launch of a new portable, they just go together, like cookies and milk or baseball and hotdogs.
Lumines is the PSP’s lone puzzle game at launch, standing next to hotly anticipated racing games, online sports titles, and a number of big name franchises. It’s a game that isn’t especially easy to describe on the back of a box and whose pictures certainly don’t do it justice. Lumines is the type of game that most people will probably overlook while rushing to pick up their Tony Hawk’s and Ridge Racers; a game you might wait to go down in price. But I assure you, there is not one single game launching with the PSP that deserves your money more than Lumines. It is by far the most addictive puzzler I have played in well over a decade, and hands down the best game currently for Sony’s handheld device.
At first glance Lumines might look familiar, tying together elements from a number of other popular puzzle games over the last twenty years, but it won’t take long before you see how unique this game is. Q Entertainment has managed to combine puzzle games with the music genre, a recipe that could have gone horribly awry without the proper supervision. Thankfully Lumines doesn’t have that problem as it’s programmed by Tetsuya Mizuguchi, the mastermind behind Sega Rally, Rez, and Space Channel 5. Here he and his team are able to take a good idea and turn it into one of the most addictive games you will ever play.
Lumines is the type of game where it’s easy to learn the basics, but impossible to master. It takes a simple theme and twists it enough to where it challenges you to think in a whole new way. Square blocks fall from the top of the screen in a number of different color patterns; it is your job to connect four of the same colors together to make a square. Every so often a vertical line will move over the screen from left to right effectively wiping clean any square you have made out of the colors. You have a limited amount of time to make as many boxes out of the colors before the line comes and wipes them clean, forcing you to work fast and plan your block placements several steps in advance.
Thankfully the creators have made this task a little easier by only making you worry about two colors at a time. Although the colors will change as you progress through the game, you are never asked to work with more than two colors at a time. The challenge is purely in figuring out how to get the most squares made before the game wipes them away.
The level designs and music plays just as big of a part in this game as the colors and blocks themselves. The game comes with nearly 40 different skins that not only change the music, but also the way the game looks. In one level you will be working with standard blocks, while in the very next level you will be working with looks like cheese. In another stage you might be dealing with ice blocks, while in yet another it could look like an LCD screen with black dots and white squares. The look is constantly changing and only gets more interesting as you go through the challenge mode.
The best part of Lumines comes in the way of its soundtrack, which really puts Sony’s UMD technology to good use. With headphones on this game sounds better than any puzzle game before it, and could easily stand alone as a music CD. The songs do offer a lot of different flavors, but the overriding genre of music is electronica; be it techno, drum & bass, or house music. Since the line that wipes the screen clean is connected to the music’s beat, you will find that some songs are more challenging than others, offering you different speeds to work with.
The challenge mode is where most of the excitement is, since it’s really just you trying to top your best score. This mode allows you to earn new skins and sample the various songs the soundtrack has. If you aren’t up for a mix of music, you can always hit the skins individually, letting you play the game however you want to. The game also allows you to take part in a number of time challenges, starting at sixty seconds and going all the way up to ten minutes.
Like just about all of the PSP launch titles, Lumines features a two player mode that uses the system’s Wi-Fi interface. In this battle the board is split into two half’s, with more room being awarded to the player breaking the most squares. This is a whole bunch of fun, but lacks a lot of depth. It would have been nice to see some sort of handicapping to make it easier for new players to go up against those who have put in dozens of hours. If you don’t know anybody who owns a PSP, you will still be able to play this type of game against the computer … but it’s just not the same when it’s not with a real person.
Like all puzzle games, Lumines really requires you to play the game to see how brilliant of an idea it is. You can look at the pictures, read my review, and watch videos, but not until you actually go through the game and see what it has to offer will you ever understand what everybody is so excited about. Lumines is one of the best puzzle games produced anywhere in the world, and is only second in my book to Tetris.
There are games that suck you in, but a game like Lumines grabs hold and will never let you go. This is not only one of the best puzzle games you could buy, but also the first must-have game for the PSP.