Let me start by saying I am (or at least used to be) a Tetris addict. I wrecked a brand-new Game Boy (the hulky gray one), solely because of the button bashing involved with the game. I can still vividly remember the nights I played Tetris for hours on end, just trying to beat that one high score. Heck, I can still sing the game’s incredibly annoying jingle after all these years. Fast forward to 2005; UbiSoft claims that their PSP launch title Lumines is the next Tetris. Let’s find out, shall we?
Lumines also has an incredibly simple, but oh so painstakingly brilliant, concept. With building blocks that resemble the good old Tetris ones, you need to make squares (surfaces of 2×2). The only problem is your building blocks can consist of two different colours and the squares you need to create have to bear the same colour.
Once you create a 2-by-2 square of the same colour, it will disappear when the timeline (a vertical line that resembles a windshield wiper) hits it, which then earns you points. Needless to say the more blocks you can wipe at once, the more points you’ll rack up. Although the concept is simple, it contains an incredible amount of depth. Once you get the hang of the game (after a few hours or so), you’ll try to build up combos to clear entire heaps of blocks and that’s when you’ll start to realize you’re getting addicted to Lumines.
Occasionally you’ll get special coloured destroyer blocks that, when used in a square, will clear all the consecutive blocks of the same colour. This can easily mean half of your screen will be cleared, which gives you some time to catch your breath and get a good look of the situation for the time being. These moments of relative peace and quiet are a pleasant change to Lumines’ otherwise hectic pace. And make no mistake about it, the game is chaotic. Your blocks already come down at a fast rate from the beginning and their frequency increases to downright murderous as the levels pass by. Beginners (myself included) will have to cope with the game’s very steep learning curve, as there are no tutorials or practice modes in the game. But once you get the hang of Lumines, you’re in for weeks of puzzling fun.
Every now and then you’ll go to a higher level (or skin as it’s called) after scoring enough points. This means you’ll get a different background and another tune. All the skins are very colourful and they give Lumines a unique touch. The PSP’s large screen is used to its full potential, as pretty much every square centimetre of the game is used. But what is even more impressive is the way the music is implemented in the game. We already saw the same kind of interaction between visuals and sound in the PS2 cult-classic Rez, but with Lumines, Tetsuya Mizuguchi raises the bar again. The music comes out crystal clear and always manages to blend in perfectly with the environments.
The only remark I can make is that there are no real goals in the game. The challenge mode is the game’s main feature and it basically comes down to clearing skin after skin, unlocking characters, backgrounds and music clips along the way. Although Tetris didn’t have a goal either (aside from maybe seeing the rocket take off), Lumines suffers a bit from this lack of incentive. You’ll keep playing the game because it can be so much fun, but not because you want to finish it. There will be days you just don’t want to pick up Lumines and want to play another game instead. Tetris kept you going for weeks and you just didn’t feel the urge to play something other than that game.
The game also has an Ad Hoc multiplayer mode for up to two players. Because I’ve played the game on a PSP Testing Tool (which is NOT portable at all), I can’t make any comments about it. But if you ask me, playing Lumines against someone you know should be really fun.
So basically, Lumines is a very addictive puzzling game that can keep you busy for weeks. You’ll keep resorting to it, even though you already have other titles on your shelf. Every PSP owner should buy or at least try it because time really flies when you’re busting those two-toned blocks. Its gameplay mechanics are rock-solid and the use of music is utterly superb. Lumines is not a second Tetris, but it’s the only current game that doesn’t pale in comparison.