When Lumines first arrived for the PSP back in 2004 (2005 for Western territories), did the gaming landscape really need another puzzler based around clearing rows of blocks? Arguably not but somebody decided that we did and so a brand-new puzzle series kicked off in earnest.
Yes, the object is to clear the screen of blocks and yes, it’s game over if they reach the top of the play area but thankfully, Lumines is a bit more than “been there, done that, got the T-shirt”. Blocks always come in two different colours and are cleared in 2×2 squares (as opposed to complete rows as in Tetris) for starters. Not crazy enough? Formations of the same colour can be linked together to clear lots of blocks at the same time and there is also a special block that – when forming part of a 2×2 – clears every single block of the same colour that is linked to that 2×2. As you can imagine, there are some huge scores to be had by strategically filling half of the screen with carefully linked blocks and then deleting the whole lot in one go with the special block, leading to everything else crashing down and forming loads more links for even more clearance and mega points.
But even that sounds fairly pedestrian and I’d totally forgive you for asking why you should even care about any of this. Thankfully, Lumines has a secret weapon and it’s the power of music.
The game sports a soundtrack largely comprising of the House and Electronica styles of music and each stage (known as “skins” in Lumines) that you play on has its own unique track. Score enough points and the stage will transition into a new one with a new skin and a new track. This keeps things fresh and interesting but the music is much more than that in Lumines. The ‘Time Line’ bar constantly scrolling from left-to-right changes speed based on the tempo of the music and only blocks arranged ahead of the bar will be cleared once it reaches the other side of the screen. This can either lead to a race against time to get your combos set up before the Time Line gets there or, when the screen is perilously full on a more sedately-paced skin, you will be willing the bar to get a damn move on and clear some space before waiting blocks overload the play area.
The sound effects for blocks dropping into place and being cleared are also unique for each skin and team up with the music to form an ever-evolving audio experience for the ears. When you are really in the zone and nailing massive combo after massive combo while the music ramps up, then Lumines totally clicks and it comes into its own as a unique puzzle game.
Honestly, the only reason I can see somebody not enjoying Lumines to any degree would purely be down to the type of music involved not being to their tastes. I described it above as House and Electronica in style so if you aren’t a fan then you may struggle to ‘get’ it. Otherwise, it’s a very addictive puzzler that actually offers a decent challenge and I always have the itch for “one more go” to see if I can get further in the single-player challenge mode and see some new skins. Better still, the game was a launch title for the PSP and as such is common-as-muck and easy to pick up for a few pounds. Bargain!
Fast forward a few years and Lumines Plus was released for the Playstation 2. Billed as an expanded version of the original, the game is already on the back foot purely for not being on a handheld. Lumines was a perfect fit for the PSP and on-the-move gaming…not so much for a home system. It might sound lazy but let’s face it, waiting for the disc to load up on the PS2 and then being tied to your sofa with a wired pad in hand doesn’t feel as “right”. Still, it doesn’t affect the quality of the original game and having a bigger display and (depending on your set-up) more capable speakers is an advantage for the Plus edition.
The main selling point of the PS2 version was the inclusion of a handful of new skins so in theory, Lumines Plus should be a definitive edition of the original game. Unfortunately, I noticed a few small niggles when moving from the PSP version to Plus. Firstly, there seems to be a brief two-three second pause during the transition of skins which leaves you in silence and interrupts the flow. Not ideal for a music-based game! Also – for whatever reason – the cool robotic voice that announces the name of the track as the music switches over, is completely missing from this version. Otherwise the game is a straight port with extremely minimal differences which I found to be a bit of a letdown. Even the menus and front end are indentical.
Ultimately though it’s the lack of portability that scuppers the Plus edition. If you don’t have access to a PSP then Lumines Plus for the PS2 is perfectly serviceable and still a great puzzle game. Otherwise, I don’t consider the additional skins to be a worthwhile trade-off for not having Lumines in its more fitting, handheld environment. Owning both versions is completely unnecessary and I only do so because I am some sort of batshit weird hoarder/magpie.
If you enjoy puzzle games (especially of the falling tile/block persuasion) or games with a heavy infusion of music then Lumines is a no-brainer. For the pitiful amount of currency that a used copy trades hands for these days, the risk to your wallet barely registers. Only bother with the Plus edition for PS2 if you don’t have a PSP or if you absolutely HAVE to play it on the big screen but you know, that’s kind of what those PSP-TV cables were designed for?