If it wasn’t for the Lumines games on the old PSP the underperforming handheld would have faded into obscurity and the back of our cupboards much sooner than it sadly eventually did. As the Vita approaches its first birthday with a distinct lack of killer apps, I’ve been looking over its back-catalogue, desperate for something to justify charging the thing up more than once a month. Now available for under a tenner, Lumines: Electronic Symphony seemed like a good place to start and certainly better value than its initial £35 price tag.
Lumines is a block-puzzler but one that bears little resemblance to games like Tetris andBejeweled 2. By rotating falling blocks of four squares you must create patterns of like colours in 2×2 or bigger blocks. These blocks will then become highlighted and the constantly sweeping timeline comes and clears them from your pile.
For big points, you’ll want to get as many ready as possible for each sweep to rack up combos and bonuses. Putting blocks down late may result in the line missing some, leaving irritating jumbled sections behind. Big points are rewarded for chains and creating combos from blocks that drop into place after others are cleared.
The game is over when the blocks get to the top of the screen but there are special squares to ease your progress every now and then, such as Chain squares. Touch the same colour square with one and any directly linked to it will be cleared on the next sweep, potentially giving you some breathing room.
So far, so familiar to seasoned Lumines players. Well, here comes the new material. A Shuffle square randomises every square in a group it touches. This can be brilliant if you’ve created a bit of a mess or a hindrance if you’ve been patiently lining up a big combo and you’ve nowhere unconnected to put the damn thing down. While you’re getting to grips with the game you’re likely to find it quite useful.
The cheeky avatars in the corner are no longer cosmetic. When fully charged over time or from combos you can call in their special ability. These range from spawning a chain or shuffle block on request, pausing the timeline and more. There are over 40 avatars to unlock, but sadly, there are only a handful of abilities between them.
The more numerous secondary abilities are uniquely for multiplayer. Unfortunately, the MP is ad-hoc play only with no online options available. Not knowing anyone locally who had a copy of the game, I was unable to try it. From what I understand though, it’s similar to the mode in the PSN version, meaning I’m not missing much. Essentially, you share a screen with a divider down the middle, which moves back and forth, squeezing one player out.
Moving on, the Vita’s touch functions get a look in. The screen can be used to play the game as you would on a phone. Drag blocks around and touch the sides of the screen to rotate them. As a gamer, I found the buttons to be more reliable, but people more used to mobile gaming might find the touchscreen suits them. The rear pad is used to hasten your avatar’s ability recharge. Tap away and you’ll see the metre rise faster. However, you won’t want to have your fingers madly dancing over the pad while you’re trying to navigate tougher stages. Plus you’ll look like a mental case if you’re playing it in public.
The main meat of the game is found in Voyage mode where you must progress through numerous stages, aiming for a highscore. Every stage is unique. The backgrounds dance around like high-def screensavers, but you’ll barely notice them if you’re concentrating on your game. Official music videos have been ditched after a brief stint in Lumines II and while I’m sad to see Gwen Stefani go, I’m much less distracted now.
Each stage includes remixes from the electronic genre and the likes of The Chemical Brothers, LCD Soundsystem, Mylo, Goldfrapp, Benny Benassi, Pet Shop Boys and Underworld. So, umm yeah, Ubisoft clearly put all the licensing cash into their Just Dance games. Every time you move, rotate place or clear a block that stage’s unique sound effects flow from your Vita, giving each level’s audio a fresh feel.
Even the design of the blocks will change and not just the colour or shape. They’ll sometimes glow or will adopt a hand-drawn feel. Some may irritate you, especially if the two colours appear too similar. I didn’t find this to be as much of an occurrence as past games though.
The biggest enemy to your success are the differences in speed that levels will throw at you. This could be blocks dropping faster or a quicker timeline. It’s absolute bliss when you get a slow one afterwards though.
It’s a strange fit for a handheld, as games in Voyage mode can often last over an hour once you get used to the game. It’s intense too, meaning your hands can stiffen with cramp. You can always take a break and put the Vita into sleep mode, but you’ll never get that momentum back.
Other modes include time attacks where you aim to erase as many blocks as you can before various time limits expire. This could have been a great quickfire mode, but the restart time after each attempt is too long to keep up with your enthusiasm. The puzzle mode from past games has gone. Master Mode is a mean little extra where you’ll be tested to the limit over five difficult stages, which may at least prepare you for the tougher stages in Voyage. Self-explanatory leaderboards and level select functions are present, but can hardly be counted as modes.
The lack of modes is the game’s biggest downfall, but there’s no denying it still plays an excellent block puzzle time-killer. The series seems to be treading water a little and could do with an injection of creativity if it is to progress.
- Easy to learn gameplay
- Tellingly addictive
- Stage variety keeps things interesting
- Music’s a bit low rent
- No online multiplayer
- Too similar to old PSP games
The Short Version: I enjoyed the Vita’s HD gloss, but I can’t see myself playing the game as much as the older ones. The hour-plus main mode feels too long for a heavy handheld and my mind started to wonder during these longer sessions as the feeling I’ve done it all before wouldn’t go away. If you’re new to the series and enjoy block puzzlers, I’d heartily recommend it, especially if you see it for under a tenner. For series fans, you may find the lack of new modes, or online multiplayer and innovation off-putting.