The Lumines series is my all-time favorite in the puzzle genre. The way it integrates music into a classic block-dropping puzzler has always just clicked with me. I have played the series less over time. I loved the two PSP versions, but never put a lot of time into the PS3 version. I was excited that the Vita was getting a new entry to the series. I think it is a series that lends itself better to a portable system. As the launch approached, I sort of waffled on whether to get the new Lumines thinking forty dollars for a game that wouldn’t be all that different than the ones I have played might not be worth it. But I couldn’t resist and I ended up bringing a copy of the game home with my Vita. Now that I have put a good amount of time into this latest addition to the series, I’m here with a verdict on how Lumines: Electronic Symphony stacks up.
First let me give people not in the know the basic gist of Lumines gameplay. You will drop squares of four blocks and up to two colors, and try to group like colors into various squares and rectangles. A line will sweep across the screen and clear out any groups of color you have created. So the idea is to get as many blocks cleared as you can and avoid filling up the area to the top. It plays great, but not all that different than similar games in the genre. It is the way in which Lumines works music and visuals into this classic format that makes it so great. As you clear blocks you will move through a number of songs and backgrounds. And what you do with your pieces affects both the music and the visuals. This is one of the areas where Lumines: Electronic Symphony shines. I’d say it has the best combination of music and skins that I have seen in the series which makes for an audio/visual delight. My favorite tracks from the game include “4:00 Am” by Kaskade, “The Future of the Future (Stay Gold)” by Deep Dish with Everything but the Girl and “Bang Bang Bang” by Mark Ronson and the Business Intl. But the soundtrack is loaded with all kinds of electronic music from The Chemical Brothers to LCD Soundsystem that fans of the genre should enjoy. And the way it works in concert with the various skins and visuals is just extremely well done.
There are a couple of new twists to the gameplay. One is a new block type that joins the classic chain-block (which clears any blocks of the same color connected to it). The new shuffle block does just what the name suggests, shuffles blocks connected to it around. If your blocks are stacked really high this can be a good thing as dropping it will likely shuffle some blocks together to be cleared. Though if dropped into an area where you are working a big section of blocks together, it can throw a wrench in things. So sometimes it is better to drop it in a separate spot from your main play area. It is an interesting new block and now that I am used to it, I don’t mind it. The other new feature is avatar abilities. Different avatars have different abilities that can be initiated by tapping their icon. This can give you an instant chain-block, several single color blocks or slow down the sweeper line along with a few other options. This in and of itself is fine. They also have to be charged up either by clearing blocks or tapping the back touch panel. The latter has unfortunately been exploited to max out the leaderboards which is kind of lame. I more play to break my own bests and compete with friends, so it isn’t a big deal, but unfortunate nonetheless. And to be honest I can’t be bothered to tap the back when playing. I find it detracts from the experience.
What I have been describing so far is the main Voyage mode. These basic gameplay ideas extend to a few other modes. Master mode features five levels of progressively tougher gameplay (faster dropping blocks for instance). This mode is good if you only have a short time to play as it is isn’t as long as Voyage (a Voyage run typically takes me over an hour to complete). There is Stopwatch mode which tasks you with clearing as many blocks as you can within a certain amount of time (30 seconds, 1 minute, etc.) which is also good for a quick play session. You can create your own playlists to play through too. They have done away with Puzzle mode and Vs. the Computer mode. While I mostly play Voyage mode, I always enjoyed these modes for a change of pace here and there. Would be nice if they were in this game, but I don’t miss them too much.
Lumines: Electronic Symphony is a great new entry in the series and an excellent launch title for the PlayStation Vita. The main game mode may be the series best with its fantastic soundtrack, great visuals and familiar gameplay. And since that main mode is what Lumines is largely about it may just be the series’ best game. If you are a series vet, it is worth getting for the new music. If you have never tried the series, it is a fine game to jump in at. Whether it is worth the $40 asking price is another issue. I figured it’d launch at $20-30. I don’t regret the purchase, but depending on who you are waiting for a price drop might be a good call. Personally, I’ve been having a blast with it. Popping in my headphones and zoning out for an hour takes me back to my early days with the PSP. It is quite an experience and one I would advise giving a go if you end up picking up a Vita at some point.