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Don’t listen to the non-believers – the fools who will tell you that Lumines is just another Tetris clone. They might have a point, but they’re entirely missing THE point. This is a Tetsuya Mizuguchi production, and like his previous game, Rez, there is more to Lumines than first appears. Like Rez, it takes a fairly standard format – for Rez it was the 3D shoot-em-up, here it’s the block-puzzle game – then fuses it with a stunning mixture of cool dance music, psychedelic visuals and hypnotic gameplay. In other words, this is this is not just a game, but an experience.
Please don’t let that put you off. I know that in the gaming equivalent of Pseud’s Corner, Lumines is already being spoken of as if someone has taken an installation from the Institute of Contemporary Arts and relocated it to an exclusive East-London nightspot so that the would-be DJs of Hoxton can dance around it and stroke their chins excitedly. However, Lumines really is for anyone with a PSP. You don’t need to look up Synaesthesia in the dictionary to enjoy it – just play it, and you won’t be able to stop.
Let’s not fool ourselves that the gameplay is really anything revolutionary. Two-by-two blocks fall from the top of the screen in various two-colour combinations. Arrange these into square or rectangular blocks of a single colour, and they disappear. By vanquishing larger chunks or chaining together sequences, you get a larger score. Should the blocks pile up over the top of the screen, it’s game over time. As with Tetris, then, the aim is to stay in the game as long as possible, while racking up as many points as you can.
Except that isn’t quite all. Part of the draw of Lumines is the way it mixes its puzzle gameplay with a distinctive audio-visual presentation. Each ‘stage’ of the game has its own ‘skin’; a combination of music track, colour palette, background graphic, visual effects and spot sound effects, all tied together in a gorgeous whole. What’s more, the music actually affects the action. For one thing, blocks don’t disappear until a timeline, chained in to the pulse of the tune, crosses their path. Once you discover this, you can use it to shift larger chunks or chain together higher-scoring combos. For another, the sound effects caused by your drops and vanishings key in with the soundtrack. As you play, the noises you make become part of the tune.