Like WipEout, I suppose a new Lumines at Vita’s launch was inevitable. The block-breaking-rhythm original game, Lumines, was a sleeper hit at PSP’s launch and a game that has developed a cult following ever since. For many, it’s the game that made the PSP a system worth owning.
The Vita’s Lumines: Electronic Symphony (being almost the exact same format) doesn’t match the PSP original’s impact, but it does have all the same charisma and replay factor.
Your objective is still to destroy a stream of blocks by matching them in sets of two by two squares. As with every other block-breaking puzzler in existence, blocks can be rotated for optimal positioning and the rate at which they will fall from the sky changes depending on the level.
What makes Lumines different, however, is by incorporating a horizontal rhythm line that moves across the screen ad nauseum. Only once the line crosses correctly positioned boxes will they disappear. It sounds like only a small thing, but it’s what makes Lumines different from the rest.
By altering the speed of both the line and a box’s rate of fall, levels can be either a frantic race to clear the screen by any means possible or a calmer, more collected build-up in which you look for the perfect moves. Combine that with an electronic soundtrack that offers up tunes from the likes of Underworld, Pet Shop Boys and The Chemical Brothers, and you’ve found yourself a block-breaker that brilliantly combines audio with gameplay.
Voyage mode is where you’ll spend most of your time. Voyage takes you through the game’s soundtrack and aesthetic palettes in a stream of levels that merge into one another – meaning no loading screens or menus as one track is mixed into another. Each new track/level alters the speed of the rhythm line and blocks, which changes a level’s difficulty, sometimes making it easier and sometimes harder.
The varying difficulty levels prevent a sense of grind, with tough levels followed by easier ones that reduce your stress and provide a moment of relaxation. It makes Voyage mode a primary mode that you actually want to play, rather than the one that you ‘have’ to play.
Elsewhere there’s the usual timed modes in which you’re tasked with setting the best score within a strict time limit; in Electronic Symphony that ranges from 30 to 300 seconds. ‘Playlist’ lets you set your own music tracks in order and play through them, which is a nice feature as it lets you choose only the easier tracks if you’re looking for the pleasure of simple interaction rather than interactive challenge.
Duel mode is ad-hoc only, unfortunately, so no getting your hopes up about playing online against pen pals, real pals or those at the top of the leaderboards. I was hoping, unreasonably perhaps, that the Vita would solve the issues handhelds have had with the internet…
Still, it’s not a massive issue. None of Electronic Symphony’s problems are game breaking by any means, but they are irritating. The shuffle block is an invention of unrivalled annoyance. As its name suggests, it rearranges the board when it lands – at random. At times, when you’ve messed up to an unsalvageable degree, it can be handy. When you’ve not messed up, and your dutifully stacked blocks are destroyed in one fell swoop, they are infinitely irritating.
The optional touch-screen controls are equally frustrating and there’s no way I can begin to recommend them as a viable means of input. Tapping the screen rotates a block, dragging a block moves it horizontally along the playing field and tapping an icon in the corners unleashes any power-ups you’ve acquired.
Unless you’re the kind of person who gets off on making games much more difficult than they should be, there’s no way you’ll last on the touch controls for more than a minute. Avoid them altogether and you’ll have the best experience, which is a bit of a shame for a Vita game. But there you go.
Nowadays, full price puzzle games of this sort are scoffed at what with consumer expectations and the genre’s prevalence on download formats. However, like it was when it launched on PSP, Lumines is quite possibly the pick of the Vita’s launch titles and quite definitely the one with most staying power.
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