Lumines II Review
How would you improve on one of the best games on the PSP and one of the best puzzle games made in the last decade? Would you enhance the gameplay, add new stuff, give players tons of new options? Give them internet play or a larger board? Switch up the rules? These are the directions that Q? Entertainment should have gone in when designing the sequel to their smash hit puzzle game, Lumines. Instead, they decided to include the video for 2005's most annoying song, "Hollaback Girl".
Unfortunately, this is not April Fools Day and I am not kidding. Lumines II's biggest "feature" comes by way of music videos in the background while you're playing, and some of these videosstopped being cool months or years ago.
Granted, I thought the idea of having music videos in a Lumines sequel would be really great. The first game had some interesting music but the animations in the background were kind of boring in many cases, so a music video seems to be pretty much a natural evolution when you're trying to integrate music into a puzzle game. And hey, all the original Lumines gameplay is here - you drop squares of four blocks each, one at a time, down into a big pit. There are two colors of blocks, and your job is to make solid squares of four of any one color. Then, as the music plays, a "bar" comes across the screen to send your solid slabs of color off to little block heaven. What made Lumines interesting is that a faster song sent the bar across faster, giving you less time to create a single big combo for mega points. Slower songs allowed bigger combos, but in a frantic game it also meant you were filling up the screen with blocks while waiting for the bar to come take them away.
I do give Q? Entertainment credit for giving us plenty of new "skins", which means new graphics for the background, blocks, and new music, and a removal of the 999,999 point score cap. Ok, so that cap shouldn't have ever been there in the first place, and the addition of new music should be a granted for a sequel. But the developers also seemed to want to bring back some of the more annoying skins from the first game while adding in new tunes that would become as legendary as the first game's "Shinin" or "Shake Your Body". Unfortunately, every flagship song in Lumines II also comes with a music video that really just doesn't work as a background for a puzzle game. Maybe if Heavenly Star was delivered as an interactive song without the music video, then it might have become as good as "Shinin".
And that's the other side effect to having music videos as Lumines skins. The songs is no longer even remotely interactive during the music videos; throwing together a big combo doesn't cause the music to crescendo like it could in the first game. And the music also doesn't wind down correctly when switching to the next skin, so instead you just get an abrupt interruption and skin switch in mid-video if you happened to be doing really well. Either that, or the video will just finish out in a fixed amount of time and the game automatically moves on to the next skin.
Sure, we do get a couple of other new outside features like the Mission mode, but with barely over a dozen new "missions", it's not much. There's a sequence mode that lets you sort of create your own skin, but the Puzzle mode is pretty much exactly the same as last time (after playing it for a while, all the puzzles seemed to come from the first game) and the Wifi multiplayer mode is the same but with a few new skins.
You can now start Challenge mode in one of three difficulties and a fourth one is unlockable, and you will even get a unique set of skins when you start on different modes, but it only takes maybe five minutes of play on the lowest difficulty for the game to become as tough as the next highest one, and so on and so on. Plus, Lumines has always had a varying difficulty as you go up; it doesn't constantly get tougher as you go. This is another feature that just doesn't add much to the game at all.
The list of music videos does include a nice range of pop and electronic stars, like Beck, Chemical Brothers, Missy Elliott, Hoobastank, New Order, and Fatboy Slim. These are generally pretty decent videos, but they just don't fit into the game well at all. Even if you enjoy the music, you'll be wondering what it's doing invading your nice game of Lumines. Plus, did we really need them? The quirky and weird soundtrack from the first game made it unique, and I don't think we really need another place to hear the same old tracks we've been hearing on the radio over the last few years. Hell, even the awesome "Star Guitar" video from The Chemical Brothers loses its charm when you're too busy playing the game to notice how every object flying past the camera represents an instrument in the song. When you're focusing on the game, it just looks like a stupid video where stuff is zooming by.
Beside the impotent addition of music videos, it's the lack of new puzzles, online scoreboards, or just plain online play that really frustrates me about Lumines II. While a couple of the music videos (like "Heavenly Star") are really good, even the best of them don't fit in with the game. And the next time I hear Gwen belt out "It's bananas B-A-N-A-N-A-S!", I might just snap. Unfortunately, this game just isn't worth it. Stick with the first one and just work on getting to the 999,999 mark as fast as possible. Forget about the fact that the sequel removes the point cap, because it's not worth having to listen to Gwen.