Lumines: Electronic Symphony - Review.
System Wars is a fun place, first the 3DS was doomed now the Vita is also doomed, it's doom, doom, dooooooooomed!
Suprisingly though while everyone is shouting about the death of Sony and all things Sony related, the PS-Vita is still here and it's still releasing games doomed or not. I picked up the early "Collectors" edition of the PS-Vita and knew that one game deserved my attention first and foremost. Touch my Katamari....no, that's for another day when it's actually available for purchase!
No, ladies and gentlemen of System Wars I speak of Lumines.
Now you may be tempted at first glance to say Lumines: Electronic Symphony looks just like any other lumines game on the surface, so whats so special about this one?
The answer: Nothing really, the game is what it is, a Lumines games you can't monkey around with the core mechanics a great deal without destroying the delicate balance of a really smooth puzzle game experience. Although... as much as I say it's the same a swath of new features come to the game and none of them detract from the overall experience and at best add a new layer of depth to the game.
For any poor soul who hasn't ever played Lumines I'll break it down for you as easilly as I can.
You start with a large grid to place 2x2 blocks that fall from the top of your screen ala Tetris(If you haven't played Tetris...GTFO), each block can have 2 different colours in a variation layouts. Your goal is to make at solid squares out of these blocks combining 4 or more in a square shape, check the image below for an example of a combination of blocks.
Simple enough right? Well here comes the tricky part while you are playing a "Timeline" sweep through your screen clearing away the blocks you have combined, getting as large a combo as possible before the timeline sweeps them away is essential to getting a high score so some risk/reward mechanics are in place to reward you for making larger combos for risking the inevitable "Crap I missed the timeline" block screwup that will occur.
The game hinges on it's "Skins" to deliver a unique experience unavailable in other puzzlers each level has it's own speed, tone, background, and music that plays out with your actions on screen. That's about it for the basics of the game I'll return to the new one now.
While it may be more of the same for some, the new skins and music alone are worth the price of admission taking your through a musical journey while you bend your mind solving your blocky tower. The standard mode "Voyage" takes you through a musical adventure holding a variaty of skins to unlock and being the main mode of the game, there is no "Winning" the game as when you reach the end it will just loop to the first track (There are around 20 skins in the main mode) One thing players familliar to the series will pick up on is that if you loose, the game gives you a chance to wipe your score but continue playing on instead of having to fight your way back to the skin you really wanted to unlock, a welcome feature for sure but takes a bit of the fun out of unlocking all the skins through sheer skill.
Among other modes you have a "World block" that will count all the blocks players around the world have cleared and if enough players contribute you get a exp reward at the end of the day...did I mention the exp system? Unlocking avatars (Little players on the side of your screen mainly for flare in the old games) happens as you play through the game gaining exp for clearing blocks and high scores, they have more of a higher purpose in this game that I will touch on later.
While there is no puzzle mode this time around, the stopwatch makes a comeback clearing as many blocks as you can in a set ammount of time and those looking for a real challenge will take on "Master mode" trying to clear a set ammount of blocks in a progresively faster pace. Of course Vs makes a return as well being able to challenge friends of Ad-hoc (no net play).
The two big additions that can be game changers to the game is the introduction of the "Shuffle block" and "Avatar skills". The powerblock makes it's return acting much like previous games allowing you to clear large swaths of like coloured blocks if they are touching eachother.
a new type of powerblock emerges that at first glance will ruin your day the "Shuffle" block will randomly change any and all blocks that are conected to it and early in the game will murder your precisely planned combos. It's usefullness only shines in the later stages of the game when you end with mountains of blocks near the top of the screen having a shuffle block "Randomize" your stacks of unmatched blocks can lead to having whole massive areas of the screen cleared out, saved my bacon a few times. The second big addition the "Avatar skills" are each avatar has a special skill to use in Voyage and Vs mode, they can range from being able to spawn your next block as a powerblock or shuffle block for beginers to more advanced abillities like holding blocks on the top of your screen for longer or pausing the timeline to allow for massive combos.
All in all Lumines: Electronic Symphony delivers on the most important aspect of the series...the music, entrancing and beatifull is all I can say one has to experience it (Headphones people) to get the full effect. The game feels like your interacting with art at times instead of playing a full blown game it's easy to get almost entranced in block solving letting the world melt around you.
Forget Uncharted and Little deviants, Lumines should have been the pack-in game for this system. Sure it makes next to no use of the touch screen (you can swipe blocks with your finger but once the game actually picks up pace it would be impossible to use touch controls) or any of the systems other features, but what it does best is display the superior display of the PSV to the max with vibrant colours and crisp design. This is hands down the best instalment of the Lumines series to date, the only thing I miss is being able to challenge a (Ifuriatingly hard) AI opponent a small niggle in the best experience I have had with the PSV and probably one of the best games out for the system as it stands.
Puzzle fans rejoice, the king is back and better than ever.
Want to hear more of my reviews? Let me know and I'll start posting my System Wars Magazine Articles on my blog as well.