There's one game everyone is talking about on the PSP and it's called Lumines. And it's easy to be a hater. I hate techno music. It died in 1994. I think it's crappy to limit handheld systems to puzzle games and pocket monsters. Isn't the PSP supposed to elevate us out of the handheld gaming ghetto?¯ So isn't lauding Lumines as a triumph for the system sort of like a step backwards? I mean, here's a game that's like Tetris but with only one shape. It's like Dr. Mario but with only two colors. For this I need a $250 platform with the supercomputing power of the PS2? What?
So it was easy to hate Lumines. I held off for a few days, but after it came down to either Lumines or a sports game (don't get me started), I chose the puzzler. And now all of my other brand new PSP titles are cold and lonesome, waiting for me to admit I need help getting Lumines out of my system.
In Lumines, you place square blocks. Each square is divided into four quadrants, and each quadrant is one of two colors. You try to set up connections of same-colored boxes in at least 2x2 cubes or rectangles. Bonuses are given for scoring larger shapes, such as 2x4 or 2x6 rectangles.
Although the pieces fall from the top of the screen, the connections you make are evaluated and eliminated from the play field by a timeline that moves from left to right across the screen. This is very much like a timeline marker in an audio editing or playback program, giving the whole game a very tech feeling.
This tech aesthetic is furthered by the menu design, the skins¯ and the music. As you play the different modes of the game, you unlock skins¯ which are basically different color schemes and background and animations for the play field. Some of these are semi photographic, others are very comic book influenced. Some look like slick steel or glass. Others are very graphic design, looking like grid paper or iconic symbols. Each skin is also accompanied by a different musical composition.
Mostly these compositions are utterly typical techno, which is apparently just perfect for lots of gamers, but I find it seriously obnoxious. It's cool that everything you do in the game, from rotating blocks to scoring massive combos, is accompanied by a sound which blends into the song. All of your actions, and the quality of your play, also affect the soundtrack, although it's not always apparent exactly why. In general, this is somewhat interesting to notice, but given that I have yet to find a song I enjoy on the soundtrack, I much prefer to play with the audio off and listening to pretty much anything else.
I was worried that my distaste of techno would ruin Lumines, but it didn't. And it shouldn't. This isn't a rhythm-oriented game any more than a game like THUG 2 Remix is rhythm-oriented. Of course there is a rhythm to the gameplay, and the audio reacts to that, but beyond that the music is just for show. This isn't DDR or PaRappa the Rapper here.
In the way that all good puzzle game are addictive and simple and wonderful, Lumines is all of that. The visuals are incredible and provide an innovative way of ramping up the difficulty level. Multiplayer via Ad-Hoc wifi play or tunneling on XBConnect or Xlink/Kai is also possible, and this is a good game to play against people you can't talk to. (Although talking trash to an opponent is fun, too.)
For those who just can't imagine owning a handheld without a really great puzzle game to play on it, here is your title. Lumines provides all the puzzling goodness you could want, breaking beyond the trippy raver crowd to really deserve a spot in any PSP owner's library.