Lumines: Electronic Symphony

The Changing of the Guard

Q Entertainment's Lumines: Electronic Symphony is the difinitve Vita launch title and the Tetris of the 21st Century.
Author: Vincent Ingenito
Published: February 21, 2012
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Oh, the lost art of the puzzle game. Much like chivalry and common sense, its nuances have largely been lost to time. They are unique in the sense that they present the player with modes of challenge that predate our medium entirely. After all, puzzles have existed in various forms for centuries, whereas we didn't start swinging over crocodile heads until 1982. Despite this fact, the genre has seen little in the way of variety or innovation. There is no greater proof of this than the perennial appearance of Tetris in all manner of industry “Best of...” lists. Clearly, this also proves that puzzle games have a great deal of power over the unconscious mind of the gamer. Despite having been originally conceived nearly 30 years ago, players of all ages continue to buy it and play it. It has always enjoyed an unchallenged claim to the puzzle game throne.

Until now.

I don't intend to mince words here. Lumines: Electronic Symphony is my definitive launch title for the PlayStation Vita. It marries fluid, sophisticated puzzle mechanics and trance inducing visuals with one of the most incredible soundtracks in the history of video games. The result is a superb puzzle game that is as fun and addictive as it is emotive and evocative.

For the uninitiated, allow me to explain. Lumines is a block dropping puzzler in which each “block” is made of 4 squares consisting of up to two colors. By rotating and arranging these blocks, the player must create solid 2x2 squares of the same color in order to clear them, keeping the board as empty as possible. Once the board becomes too full for another block to drop in, the game ends.

As an added twist, a vertical line known simply as the “time line” sweeps across the field from left to right at regular intervals. The squares you've matched don't actually leave play until the time line passes them, adding an element of timing to the mix. You'll find yourself holding off on dropping a block until just after the time line passes, giving you a little extra time to build more matching blocks for big points. At other moments, you'll be frantically rushing to get a block down before it passes just to get a crucial area of the board cleared as quickly as possible. This added dimension is one of many things that sets Lumines apart from it's contemporaries.

Further differentiating it, is the level of depth and nuance it's actual puzzle system offers, though it does share a heritage with the many popular block puzzlers we've seen through the years. Like Tetris there are 6 different pieces and learning how to properly assimilate each into the stacks of blocks already on the board is of key importance, but the similarities end there. One of the biggest differences is the size and shape of the playing field. It's both shorter and wider than in Tetris giving the player far more freedom in how they want to arrange their blocks while simultaneously making sudden game overs a bigger threat if you don't keep the middle of the board (where new blocks come in) clear enough.

Using all of this space is an important strategic element since there are benefits to keeping distinct block piles that don't touch one another. Chain and Randomizer blocks are huge game changers that allow you to clear a contiguous same color line of squares, or randomly change the colors of an entire connected mass of them. Maximizing, or in the case of the Randomizer, minimizing the impact these blocks have on your strategy hinges on how well you've utilized all the extra space the game affords you.

This creates a similar choice to that of Tetris: Do I clear block by block to stay safe, or do I set up something big and wait for a chain block for big points? You need to have a way to deal with Randomizers since they will ruin any plan you had going. Also, building a long, snaking line of one color requires an entirely separate kind of puzzle skill than simply matching colored blocks, requiring you to actually get into a different mindset to pull it off correctly. All this serves to make setting up a screen clearing chain far more engaging and rewarding than setting up a tetris in Tetris.
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