Sunday, June 1, 2014

Lumines: Electronic Symphony

As stated in my review of Child of Eden, one series of puzzle games I enjoy playing is the Lumines series, which I have played before as an alternative to Tetris. As such, when I heard that a new game in the series, Lumines: Electronic Symphony, was going to be a launch title for Sony’s then-new PlayStation Vita system in 2012, I knew it was something I had to check out if I ever got the handheld. Needless to say, after I acquired the handheld, I eventually did get the chance to play this game, namely after I got it for Christmas last year (at the same time I got Child of Eden, coincidentally by the same developer, Q Entertainment). After spending some time with this game, I found that the game was not only worth the wait, but actually exceeded my expectations.

The core gameplay of Lumines is actually fairly simple: Similarly to Tetris, you must adjust falling blocks as they come down, except rather than clearing lines with seven different shapes, you are trying to make 2x2 blocks of one or two colors connect such that four sections connect to form a square, building off from there to create combos (the grid is also horizontal rather than vertical). At the same time, a timeline regularly runs across the grid as it clears your combos and earns you points. What makes this interesting, however, is that the speed of the squares and the timeline are both dictated by the tempo of the song playing in the background, which changes regularly depending on how fast you clear each stage, or Skin. This alone makes for some incredibly addictive gameplay and can lead to some minor suspense as you try and figure out how/whether you’re going to make it out of a corner in time (assuming you end up in that situation).

On top of this, there are some additional gameplay elements that help keep the game interesting. For example, you might come across a Chain Block, which creates a combo out of any square of the same color that connects to the base square, or a Shuffle Block, which rearranges whatever gathering of blocks it touches at random; both of these special blocks can come in real handy to not only create some big combos when done right, but they can also help you out of a tight spot (they’ve helped me out more than once). You also have an Avatar which has a special power that can be activated by pressing the Vita’s touch screen (you can unlock more over time to set as your Avatar, though the default is Boy, which turns an upcoming block into a Chain Block); however, once you use this power, you have to wait for it to recharge before you can use it again. Fortunately, while combos can help recharge this power faster, you can also repeatedly tap the rear touch pad of the Vita to do the same task (though this may become less of an option should a game become more frantic).

A sample of gameplay.

Additionally, the game has a couple different control options. There’s the normal control scheme, consisting of moving blocks with the D-Pad while using action buttons to turn them; or there’s touch screen controls, wherein you can move a block left or right by swiping it with your finger, spin the block by tapping it, and make a hard drop by swiping it down with your finger. While these controls work well, I found myself primarily using the normal controls, as I had grown more accustomed to them over time (this may vary from person to person).

The game also offers a number of gameplay modes to keep one occupied, the main one of which is Voyage, in which you go through normal gameplay while unlocking more Skins as you go; the more points you earn in one playthrough before quitting, the more you level up to unlock more Avatars. You also have the option to restart upon the end of gameplay, normally after a block is unable to go down in time, which will restart you from whichever Skin you lost on, though as a penalty it resets your current score to 0. In addition, extra modes such as Stopwatch, in which you clear as many squares as possible in a set time frame; Playlist, in which you make your own music selection to play through from the game’s soundtrack; and Master, a shorter, more difficult game, can also provide further challenge and entertainment as you hone your skills and create your own Playlists out of your favorite Skins.

One important aspect of Lumines is its music, and this game has a great selection of electronic music songs to create its own atmosphere, including tracks from artists such as The Chemical Brothers, Kaskade, Benny Benassi, Wolfgang Gartner, Aphex Twin, and many more, some of which can really make you want to move to the beat as you play through each one. Each of these Skins also has their own distinct visual style, including the color and style of the blocks in addition to the background visuals, which can help create a unique experience that periodically changes as you keep playing. While I am familiar with some of the songs and artists featured in the game, a few of the tracks have also gotten me curious about checking out some of their work, including Orbital, whose song “Never” is not playable, but still plays in the credits of the game.

Different tracks offer different Skins.

Interestingly, as a side note, this game was originally going to heavily feature Daft Punk, to the point where Daft Punk themselves were willing to do it and record new material for use in the game. However, these plans were axed as the electronic duo was tied up with composing the music for Tron: Legacy, which lead to what Electronic Symphony became upon release. While I still enjoyed playing through this game, having found out about the original pitch after it already came out, this knowledge as a Daft Punk fan only make me wonder what it might have been like had this gone through (though considering how good the music for Tron: Legacy turned out, I would say it was well worth it in the end).

Lumines: Electronic Symphony is a very enjoyable, and very addicting, puzzle game. The touch screen controls are very interesting, though not everyone will probably use them, and the extra gameplay modes add some extra replay value to the core gameplay. However, the music and visuals come together in addition to the gameplay to make the whole experience worthwhile. This game will most likely appeal to fans of Lumines who have not played this game already, as well as any newcomers who enjoy puzzle games like the Tetris series. For anyone interested in trying out Lumines for the first time, this is a great starting point and one that will not disappoint. Lumines: Electronic Symphony is quite possibly the best Lumines game I have yet played, and for Vita owners, this is a game worth checking out and a true audio-visual spectacle you do not want to miss.

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