Having made its debut at the launch of the PSP, it’s only fitting that Lumines should be one of the strongest launch titles on PlayStation Vita. In the intervening period, Testuya Mizuguchi’s trippy, musically enhanced puzzler has found its way onto nearly every system going, from the Xbox 360 (through Xbox Live Arcade) to the iPhone, but there’s something about playing it on Vita that just feels right. What’s more, while the basic gameplay remains virtually unchanged, this version of Lumines uses Vita’s high-resolution screen and considerable graphics capabilities to make it the most visually intense incarnation yet, with a storming soundtrack to match
If you’ve never played Lumines, you might feel underwhelmed that it’s actually a fairly simple block puzzle game. Square clusters of four blocks rain from the top of the screen and pile up on the bottom, Tetris-style, and you can shift them left or right or rotate them before they hit ground. The clusters fragment when they hit an uneven portion of the pile, so if you have a one-wide tower or one-wide crevice, blocks will remain on or slot into it, leaving the remains of the cluster to fall to one side. Each individual block has one of two colours, and when four or more blocks of the same colour connect in a square or rectangle, the block disappears and you get points. However, this only happens when a scan line, which patrols from left to right across the screen, runs across them. Occasionally special blocks appear that cause adjacent blocks to disappear, and you get extra points for getting rid of larger shapes or losing several clusters in one sweep of the scanline. If the pile of blocks reaches the top of the screen, you’re off to the quit or retry screen. That’s basically it.
Except it isn’t. Lumines is divided into sections, known as ‘skins’, and each skin has its own tune, its own visual style and its own speed for moving the scanline. On the one hand, this means that every skin has its own look and feel, varying between intense visuals with pounding dancefloor anthems to more blissed out styles with mellow, ambient tracks. On the other, it means that each skin asks you to subtly adjust your style of play. A slower scanline, for example, gives you more opportunity to build up high scores, but the blocks won’t disappear as fast, making the business of piling up large clusters riskier.
But what really matters is the way Lumines uses the convergence of vision, sound and gameplay to create a powerful, almost psychological effect. In each skin, the sound effects are cleverly keyed into the music, giving you the feeling that your participation in the experience somehow goes beyond just playing a game. The visuals are deliberately trippy, echoing the music with ambient, psychedelic effects or harsh colours and bold shapes. Most importantly, to play Lumines successfully you have to get into its zone, to the extent that you forget about conscious block placements and start working on some weird subconscious level. The more you play Lumines the better you seem to get at playing it, but you might be hard pushed to say exactly why.