Lumines: Electronic Symphony Review
It just wouldn't be a Sony portable without a new Lumines, would it? Of course, this tradition doesn't exactly go back very far, but I felt that very strongly when the PS Vita was first revealed. And now that the system is here, the flagship game to launch... is Uncharted 3. *sigh* But Lumines: Electronic Symphony is still here in full force, and while it's not exactly as impactful as the original released back with the PSP in 2005, it's still the best pure puzzle experience to launch on the Vita. But am I saying much with that proclamation? Maybe not.
Electronic Symphony brings the classic block-eliminating gameplay of Lumines - which was possibly one of the most addictive and innovative ways to play on basic Tetris-style block dropping made yet - and, well, it doesn't do much with it. The stylistic focus here is on some of the pioneering electronic music of yesteryear, so instead of Rhianna and LMFAO, you will get artists like Safri Duo, Aphex Twin, and the Chemical Brothers. Unfortunately, the developers didn't license any of the most popular songs of the 90s and 00s in dance music; most of this stuff was B-level popularity at most, so unless you've got encyclopedia-like knowledge of dance music, there might be a lot of songs you've never even heard in Electronic Symphony.
Luckily, the gameplay is still the same addictive puzzle action we're used to. Squares of four blocks drop with random selections of two colors in each block, and your task is simply to eliminate blocks by dropping them so that chunks of four in a square are put together; a line that crosses along the playfield, left to right, clearing the blocks you've set to eliminate. Combos and bonuses come when the line clears more than four "squares" worth of blocks in one pass, and extra bonuses come if you do that multiple times in a row. Skillful players can set up huge chain reactions, but it takes a good amount of mastery, as the playfield can fill up quickly, and everything can fall apart if you make a few missteps. On top of that, the song changes every few minutes, and with it the design of the blocks transform into something entirely different - and both the falling blocks' speed and the speed of the line change, too, to match the pace of the new song. It can be a disorienting transition, and while a slower-paced song gives you a slower line to allow for bigger combos, it also gives you less space to play in while you wait for eliminated blocks to be cleared off the screen.
I wasn't a big fan of Q Entertainment's quick follow-up sequel Lumines II back in 2006, mostly because of the game's rigidity in playing a licensed song without much remixing, while a very distracting FMV music video played in the background. Here, the developers have found a great compromise, where the developers got to remix the song and transition through each song's best parts as the player gets closer to clearing that song and moving to the next. On top of this, the background videos look great on the PS Vita's high-res screen, but they're not so distracting that they pull away from the game going on in the foreground.
With all of that said, something just feels missing from Electronic Symphony. I only knew a few of the songs really intimately, even though I've been listening to Euro dance and electronic music (maybe a tad too narrowly, admittedly) for nearly fifteen years. I'd have loved for Sony and Q Entertainment to spend the money to license even bigger hits, because at this point, I'm not sure it was worth it - especially for non-European audiences. Sure, the game also has new features and some additional modes along with some strange online functionality called the World Block, but none of it to me really amounts to anything, well, game-changing. This is still Lumines, just at a doubled screen resolution and with a different, but not necessarily better, integration of the game with the music. It's certainly the best Lumines since the first, but I can't help but be disappointed that one of the PSP's most iconic games is merely good, but not great, on Sony's newest portable.
Disclosure: This review is based on a copy bought for personal use.