All of this has been true of Lumines since its PSP debut, so what does this new Vita version bring to the table? Well, it’s not just a case of play modes, though the game features variants where you simply aim for the highest score in the time available, duel over an ad-hoc wireless network with another player nearby, or set up a playlist of your favourite skins. Instead, the changes come down to controls, an interesting experience system, and the way the power of PS Vita enhances the game’s hypnotic appeal.
The controls bit is easy. On the PSP or Xbox 360 you moved the falling clusters with the D-pad or analogue stick and rotated them with the buttons, while on smartphone platforms you could drag the clusters with a finger and rotate them with a tap. On Vita you can opt for either option, and both have their advantages. Personally, we’d go for the old-school controls every time, but the touch controls are arguably faster and more intuitive if you haven’t played the game before.
And experience? Well, every time you play Lumines: Electronic Symphony you earn experience. Earn enough experience and you rise up a level, unlocking new skins to play on in duel or playlist mode, and new avatars to play with. These avatars – peculiar animal critters – each have a special power, usually involving an ability to change the configuration of the oncoming blocks. Tap the avatar’s icon in the corner and this power is unleashed. It’s not a huge thing, but the draw of levelling and unlocking new skins and new avatars gives you more in the way of long-term goals, and it’s not as if Lumines wasn’t ludicrously addictive to begin with.
But what elevates Lumines: Electronic Symphony to greatness is that it takes the audio/visual experience of the game one step beyond. A killer soundtrack, featuring a rich variety of tracks from the likes of LCD Soundsystem, Orbital, Mylo, The Chemical Brothers, Benny Benassi, Air and Goldfrapp certainly helps, but the revamped visuals use 3D models instead of 2D blocks, with more sophisticated plasma and particle or video effects in the background, and basically a whole mass of eye-candy everywhere you look. Put on some decent headphones, turn up the volume, and Lumines: Electronic Symphony is as powerful a fusion of music, graphics and gameplay as you would wish for. You keep playing not just because you want to better that high score or hit the next level, but because you simply can’t wait to see and hear what’s coming next.
The danger with any game like this is that it gets compared to other block puzzle games available on smartphones or download services at a fraction of the price, and at £30 Lumines: Electronic Symphony feels a little pricey. On balance, though, the comparison just isn’t fair. Think about the 30 skins, the soundtrack and the level of artistry that has gone into the latest Lumines and it’s anything but another block puzzle game. It’s one of the best – if not the best – things on Vita, and a fantastic game by any standards.
It might sound like a simple Tetris clone, but Lumines is a dazzling collision of light, sound and gameplay, with a brilliant soundtrack, awesome trippy visuals and tight, well-polished game mechanics. It’s one of the best launch titles on Vita and one of the finest action-puzzle games ever made.