Release date: February 2012
Developer: Q Entertainment
Format: Digital download (PS Store) and physical cart
Other platforms: NA
Price: ~$23 AUD
While I enjoy puzzle games, I don’t tend to buy them often. Lumines Electronic Symphony was an impulse buy in EB Games when I was in there buying something for my 3DS; there were a number of preowned copies of Lumines on the clearance table marked down to $4 or something (I think they’re usually $10 now for a new copy, much cheaper than paying $23 from the PlayStation Store), so I decided to buy it mostly to help get rid of the ridiculous amount of loose change I had in my wallet at the time. I also figured it couldn’t hurt to expand my collection of Vita games a bit, since at the time I only had one or two others.
There are a few modes in Lumines Electronic Symphony. Stop Watch Mode gives the player a limited time to see how many blocks they can clear, while Duel Mode allows you to play against a friend (though this multiplayer is local only). Master Mode allows you to start at higher difficulties. Playlist allows you to arrange backgrounds and songs you have already unlocked into a custom order for you to play through. The Voyage mode is the main attraction, as there are no levels to beat; instead you play for as long as you want, until you either run out of room for more blocks or give up.
I hadn’t played any previous Lumines games when I went into this, so I expected it to be in the same vein as Tetris (I suppose most ‘falling block’ puzzle games get lumped into the same category). Lumines has square blocks falling from the top of the screen, which each quarter one of two colours. To clear them, you need to form squares or rectangles out of pieces of the same colour by moving and rotating the blocks, but they don’t disappear immediately; only once the constantly sweeping laser passes over them will they vanish. The panel on the left shows what blocks are on their way, while on the right you can see a running total of your play time, score, clear percentage and high score to beat. In addition to the standard blocks are chain blocks, which will clear any squares of the same colour you can connect it to, and shuffle blocks. Shuffle blocks will change around all the blocks already on the screen, which can be a help or a hindrance; if you have a good combo lined up, this will destroy it, but if you’re struggling with a screen quickly filling up with unmatched blocks, you might get lucky with the shuffle clearing out a lot of them for you and allowing for more combos.
As you play, you can also use your cleared blocks to contribute to clearing the World Block, a giant block to be cleared by all Lumines Electronic Symphony players. However, the World Block resets every 24 hours, so if it isn’t cleared by then, everyone has to start over. You can also see how you stack up against your friends on a leaderboard on the menu screen.
So far it probably sounds like a stock-standard puzzle game, but the music and visuals take Lumines Electronic Symphony from being a good block-matching game to a sensory feast. I should admit that I’m not generally a fan of electronic music; I don’t dislike it, I just don’t really listen to it. Even so, I still recognised several of the bands, including the Pet Shop Boys, Goldfrapp, and The Chemical Brothers, and once I stopped playing, I often had parts of the soundtrack stuck in my head. The music helps you slip into a zen mode while playing, and the transitions between tracks are seamless, whether they are fast-paced, upbeat tunes or slower, more relaxing melodies. This rise and fall helps to balance the frantic sections with calmer periods of respite, and it actually feels as if the music is responding to the speed at which you clear blocks. As the music changes, so do the backgrounds, which vary between subdued, muted images to bold, bright patterns, with the colours and designs of the blocks also changing to match their background. When I first started playing I worried that this might be distracting, but it doesn’t interfere with the gameplay in the slightest, and it helps to keep it feeling fresh and exciting even after playing for hours.
As you earn more experience points and level up, you unlock new skins (backgrounds) and music tracks, as well as new avatars. In most games, avatars serve only an aesthetic purpose, but in Lumines Electronic Symphony, each avatar has two special abilities linked to it (one for single player and one for multiplayer), which can be used when the gauge in your avatar fills up on the left of the puzzle screen. Some of these abilities include slowing the flow of falling blocks and changing the colour of blocks to make matching easier. These abilities can make the difference between crashing out at 1 hour or being able to go on to play for another few hours, so it’s definitely worth unlocking all the avatars you can and experimenting with their abilities to see which one you find most useful.
The only problem I had with the game was the use of touch controls, and it was a pretty minor problem. The Vita allows the use of the front screen to swipe and shuffle blocks, but this just felt cumbersome and was often difficult to do accurately once the game had sped up and blocks were falling thick and fast. Luckily, though, you can just use the physical buttons, D-Pad and/or thumb sticks to control things instead, which is much easier and more accurate. You can also tap the back screen to help charge your avatar’s special skill faster, but this quickly grows tiresome. Unless you’re competing to try to climb the leaderboards, it’s probably not worth bothering with.
Lumines Electronic Symphony is definitely worth buying if you have a Vita. With its fast-paced puzzle action and absorbing rhythmic soundtrack, it’s very easy to lose yourself in it for hours without realising. Yet if you want to just have a quick puzzle break during a TV commercial, you can do that too. The digital price is a bit hefty in my view but if you buy it in physical format, you can probably get it for less than the price of a fast food meal.