Review – Lumines: Electronic Symphony

I have to come clean, guys.  I have been, for many years, a total Lumines poser.  I bought it on the PSP.  I bought it on XBLA.  I bought it on the PSN.  I talked about how cool it was.  And to be fair, it IS cool.  But the truth of the matter is that I just didn’t get it.  I mean, I understood the concept just fine, but I never could get into that zone that a great puzzle game can give you.  So once the Vita launched and it was going to cost me $40 to continue to be a poseur, I decided to buckle down and figure it out.  I’m glad I did.

For the uninitiated Lumines is a timing based puzzle game.  Some people refer to it as a musical puzzle game, but the music really only dictates the speed in which you have to play, so I’m going to stick with timing-based.  The basic idea is to create squares of the same color along the playing field and try to get in as many as possible as a line passes by and erases them and tallies up the points.  The other objective, of course, is to not screw up so badly that you fill up the screen and lose.  So, like I said earlier, the goals are clear, but getting into the groove of how it plays wasn’t immediately apparent to me.

The game has a slick leveling system to keep you coming back and putting your friends scores on the front page also helps foster some competition. Unfortunately it takes one to two minutes for those scores to load in, so you'll usually start the game before you ever see them. There are also some other modes to keep you busy but the main attraction here is Voyage.

A big reason for this, which I think is Lumines’ Achilles’ heal, is that it takes FOREVER for the game to get going.  An average player will last between 45 minute and an hour, which for a puzzle game is an awfully long time.  But to make matters worse, the first 20 minutes of it are completely boring.  Imagine playing Tetris where the first 10 levels were actually level 0, and you had to do that every single time you played before you got to the exciting bits of levels 10+.  That’s the basic idea here.

But for those who stick with it, which I finally did, you are in for an absolute treat.  I reached what can only be considered a ‘lumines trance’ several times – where after the game ended I had completely forgotten where I was or that real life even existed.  For that half hour all I knew was above average dance music, blocks, and a line that wanted to take away my stuff.  It’s hard to quantify what this is like in words but these brief glimpses into what it’s like to participate in high level Lumines play left me amazed.

If only I worked at Ubisoft... My solution to the 'first 20 minutes totally suck' problem is that the game should allow you to make a save at 100,000 points and all future games allow you to start at that point. And if you want to go back and try to get to 100k sooner (to up your scoring possibilities) you can do that and replace the save. Problem solved. You're welcome.

Graphically the game is spectacular, using the OLED to great effect with bright colors and fantastic backdrops.  The sound out of the speakers is good but to truly get into the zone I recommend putting headphones on.  There are some touch controls with varying results.  As far as controlling the main board with touch – uh… nah.  But there is an interesting mechanic in this version whereby you have a little avatar who has a special power (one, for instance, is the ability to make your next 3 blocks solid colors).  Once you use that power you can tap the back touch to refresh it quicker.  It may be my imagination but it seemed to fill up quickest when I tapped it rhythmically to the beat of the song.  Even if it was my imagination it felt the most organic doing it that way.

Lumines is such a time investment that it’s hard to recommend this to everyone, especially at the price point it’s currently at.  But for fans of puzzle games you will get hours and hours of enjoyment out of this game and your $40 – somehow – will feel well spent.  I really believe that Ubisoft needs to find a way to cut the first 20 minutes off each play session, though, for this game to become a top-tier game.  Because as much fun as I had when I really, really got it… I still find myself looking at my games list and going “I am definitely not in the mood to sit through the boring part of that right now.”  This is certainly not what you want your customers to be thinking on a portable device.

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