Lumines Electronic Symphony

Let’s start with some full disclosure here, I’m a huge fan of Lumines. You know those people that will look at someone like they had kill a puppy if they were to pronounce it Loo-mines, I’m one of those people. Thankfully the space robot lady announcer in Lumines Electronic Symphony says Lumines at the very start of the game so that will never happen again. As you are reading a review now I guess you may not own Electronic Symphony yet, so let’s get it out the way. It’s Lu-mi-nes or if you cannot be bothered to remember that just go with “Luminous” and mumble the last syllable. OK, shall we continue? Good.

The original Lumines became somewhat of a gaming obsession for me, it stayed in my imported PSP almost exclusively until Lumines II stepped up to take its place. Then came the XBLA and PSN versions and I devoured those too. The premise of the series is to build coloured squares out of falling blocks, each block is made up of four smaller blocks of two colours. Completed squares are cleared by a scrolling vertical time line that passes over the play area. You score points by creating larger squares, multiple squares or by having cleared squares from further squares as they are removed, there is also a chain block to help you clear out any mess you might have made. What makes Lumines that little bit special is that after clearing a number of squares you will be seamlessly moved onto another ‘Skin’ with each based on a different song. During each song the rate at which blocks fall and the speed of the clearing line varies leaving the player to adjust their strategy to suit. The result of these mechanics is a fantastically engrossing puzzle game that can, and demands to, be played for hours on end without stopping. I love Lumines with the whole of my gaming heart and I didn’t want it to change, new visuals and some new songs is all I wanted.

I know you probably saw this coming: they changed it. The great news is that, without a doubt, all the changes are fantastic and expand the gameplay to a point that make the older titles seem like they are missing something. Firstly the special Chain block no longer needs to be part of a complete square to activate, it just needs to be touching a block of the same colour, a very subtle change but it makes the block much simpler to use and can really help get you out of a bind. There is also a new shuffle block that changes every block connected to it, you can think of this as an evil block sent to disrupt your flow and make a mess of your painstakingly set up playing field but it can come in handy from time to time.

The most important change however is the addition of avatar powers, each unlockable avatar offers the player a power that can be used from time to time. These can force your next block to contain a chain or shuffle block, swap out queued blocks for solid coloured blocks or freeze the timeline for a short period. These are all exceptionally powerful effects but they come at a cost, to recharge your power you’ll need to tap the rear touchscreen of the Vita. While this might not sound too tricky I found the act of tapping the back screen extremely distracting and this forced me to mix up my strategy and allow myself time when blocks could safely fall while I tapped away. It’s tricky but the rewards for getting it right are considerable and most importantly the powers and new block types add considerable depth to the game.

There is of course a whole new soundtrack to go with the new skins and it’s a real treat. Lumines once again combines songs you know and love with tracks from relative unknowns, each with their own personality that perfectly matches the visuals and play style of the skin they’re paired with. The Vita’s fantastic OLED screen and considerable graphical power have been put to good use with every special effect slider pushed up to 11 to create the beautiful skin backgrounds that frame the now fully rendered 3D blocks that seem to channel the music directly to your brain. It’s very easy to lose yourself in this world and when playing with headphones you might want to work out a simple ‘go away, I’m playing Lumines’ gesture for whenever your family threaten to interrupt with talk of taking out the bins or the house being on fire.

While not the main attraction by any means there are some interesting things on offer besides Voyage mode. There is local and internet wireless multiplayer and although this has never offered me much of a challenge, the multiplayer specific avatar powers may help to change that. Another element I’ve never gotten the hang of is the time based challenge modes but they are here should you fancy it. More interesting are the new World Block and Master modes. World Block is a worldwide daily challenge to clear a huge set of blocks with players all over the world contributing to the game, as it stand the block is being cleared in about four hours meaning you will need to get up pretty early to get involved. The Master mode is, just as you might expect, a pretty hardcore challenge to survive some extremely fast gameplay without any help from avatar powers. For me it served to show me that I’m not as good at Lumines as I thought I was. All of these modes, including Voyage, earn you experience points that will level you up and unlock new avatars and powers, another new and welcome addition to the series that will keep you coming back for more.







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