System: PSP (later on mobile, PC, XBLA, PSN, PS2, iOS)
Developer: Q Entertainment
Release Date: March 22, 2005
Here I am, seven years late to this party. Seven years where I did not have Lumines in my life. Seven years where I had one less addiction than I do now.
Every major handheld system seems to have a wildly popular puzzle game tied to its release, starting all the way back with the original GameBoy and its top seller, Tetris. In 2005, the PSP’s claim to fame was Lumines, a psychedelic title influenced mostly by Tetris and Columns.
Lumines is a falling block game that uses 4×4 pieces of two different colors. The goal is to line up these blocks so 4×4 squares of the same color are pieced together and removed from the board. If a block is placed on an uneven structure, half will remain on top while the other half falls to the remaining pieces below. This adds an additional element of strategy to what is an otherwise very simple game.
What sets Lumines apart from the rest is its heavy emphasis on light and sound. An integral part of the gameplay is the use of a “timer” — a line that moves across the screen at intervals based on the beat of the music. This timer wipes out the same-colored blocks and removes them from the screen. The kicker here is that you must wait until the timer clears them before you can put new blocks in their place. This gets increasingly more difficult as the timer slows down and passes by less frequently. On the flip side, this can also be used to create massive bonuses by linking several squares together, if done correctly.
After passing through four levels (reached by hitting a certain amount of points), the music and the entire “skin” of the game will change. This means that the colors of the blocks, the background, and the tempo of the timer will all change at the same time, all while you are in the middle of playing. The transitions can sometimes be jarring, but they are a lot of fun and help keep the game fresh.
Music is a major part of the game, which is to be expected since this comes from Tetsuya Mizuguchi, the mastermind of the cult hit Rez. While psychedelic colors flash on screen, various blends of electronica play through the speakers, creating a thoroughly engrossing audio/visual experience. Plugging in a set of headphones really takes the game to another level — seriously, it makes everything even better.
While falling block puzzle games aren’t anything new, Lumines adds a fresh coat of hallucinogenic paint to a classic concept. This is one of those games that must be played to truly appreciate it, and it’s also one that is easy to learn yet difficult to master. It’s not perfect — I wish there were a way to start the challenge mode with random song selections instead of the same one every time, for example — but complaints are minor overall. The bottom line is that Lumines is addictive as all hell, and that’s all you can ask from a puzzle game. With several game modes and the ability to play multiplayer, there is a staggering amount of replay value. This title will not be leaving my PSP anytime soon, and I can’t wait to try out its sequels.
If, somehow, you are like me and slept on Lumines all these years, do yourself a favor and try it out. This is a bargain bin title now, and there really is no reason to skip out on it.