Lumines Electronic Symphony Vita review: A familiar trip
21st Feb 2012 | 17:46
The PS Vita's launch line-up includes some reassuringly familiar games, and none more so than Lumines, Japanese maverick Tetsuya Mizuguchi's psychedelic puzzle game loosely inspired by Tetris. However, the fact that publisher Ubisoft has given itg a new subtitle - Electronic Symphony - raises hopes that it might not just be an over-familiar port and, largely, that turns out to be the case.
Lumines: Electronic Symphony's gameplay is, of course, pretty much as those who first encountered it on the PSP will remember. Two-coloured square blocks composed of four bricks fall from the top of the screen, and you have to arrange them so that square blocks of a single colour build up; when a timeline reaches them, they and any other touching blocks of the same colour disappear, causing the blocks on top of them to fall downwards; like Tetris, the game session ends when a block touches the top of the screen.
It sounds simple, but it's actually more complex than Tetris, requiring a decent degree of spatial awareness, and it's certainly trippier than Tetris, thanks to the fact that it was conceived by Mizuguchi. Who is a man who likes to go clubbing a lot.
Thus, you get a most excellent electronic music soundtrack (featuring The Chemical Brothers, Mylo, LCD Soundsystem et al) and eye-popping visuals consisting of background skins and the blocks themselves which, for the first time in Electronic Symphony, are modelled in 3D. Don't worry, Lumines-lovers: they're presented to you in the same front-on, 2D view, but this time around, they're more tactile than ever.
A bit of an update
Electronic Symphony is actually a pretty major update in Lumines terms. There's a new XP system, which is pretty welcome since for the first time in the history of the franchise, you get a lasting memento of the hours of play you put into the game: previously, it more or less returned you to the beginning when your block-tidying session reached its end, and it used to set you fearsome points targets before unlocking new skins.
Now, it starts you from the beginning again, but rewards you when you level up with unlocked skins and avatars. The latter have a useful function: they launch special moves - of which there are ten, with the first, unlocked-from-the-start one being the classic chain block, which removes any pocket of touching blocks of the same colour, regardless of the shape they describe.
One significant new addition to Lumines' gameplay is the shuffle block, which randomly recolours the blocks in any pile of bricks it touches. Which can be a pain if you've been carefully building up stripes of colours, for example, in anticipation of taking loads of blocks out using a chain block.
If that's your strategy, it's a good idea to keep a block-free hole in your construction site, into which you can send a shuffle block so that it causes the minimum of disruption. But if you play conventionally, a shuffle block generally brings about the removing of a chain of blocks, anyway. It's a clever means of adding an extra strategic element to the game.
There are an almost confusing number of ways to arrange your blocks using the PS Vita's unique capabilities - you can, for example, touch left and right on the screen to rotate them in different directions, or use the left and right triggers for the same purpose.
Or you can stick with the tried-and-tested D-pad or left analogue stick-plus-buttons arrangement, which we preferred. We did find ourselves making use of the rear touchpad, though: drumming your fingers on it causes your power-up to recharge quicker - and you then unleash it by touch your avatar at the bottom left-hand corner of the screen.
Beyond the familiar Voyage mode, there's a welcome new one called playlist, which lets you arrange the order in which the skins you've unlocked arrive, and also lets you choose the order of your favourite music tracks. There's a Duel mode, available locally or via the Internet, which lets you battle your mates, and a Master mode for those who really fancy themselves as Lumines ninjas - it's the same as Duel mode, but with the speed cranked way up.
Lumines: Electronic Symphony is a pretty attractive day one purchase for the PS Vita. It's fearsomely addictive, and manages to be both soothing and psychedelic, which is no mean feat. Ubisoft has treated it to a judicious update for the Vita, which quite subtly renders it even more strategic, lets you customise it in an accessible rather than fiddly manner and gives you much more rewards for your endeavours than previous versions.
It may not be the most forward-looking of games - it's just tarted-up Tetris, after all. But if you play it, you'll be surprised by its hidden depths.