Lumines Import Preview

We test Bandai and Q Entertainment's colorful PSP puzzle game.

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When it comes to launch software for a new piece of hardware, developers can choose to go one of two ways: There are the flashy, visceral games that serve up quick eye candy and generally shallow gameplay, and then there are the games that are wrapped in less-arresting visuals, but feature solid gameplay. While we've only just started tearing through the newly released import version of Bandai's Lumines, we have to say we're extremely impressed by what the inventive puzzle game from veteran developer Tetsuya Mizuguchi's Q Entertainment is bringing to Sony's Japanese PSP launch lineup. Equal parts classic Tetris-inspired puzzler and club-music sampler, Lumines seems to be a game that's a unique showcase for the PSP and a nice chunk of fun to boot.

Lumines' gameplay is steeped in the simple pleasures that are at the core of a good puzzle game. In it, you'll need to rotate falling boxes made up of four smaller multicolored squares so that at least four squares of the same color are matched up when each box lands. Once that happens, they'll glom together and form a cube, and that cube is then dissipated by a beam of light emanating from a sensor that runs across the top of the playfield to the beat of the music that's playing. Once you get the hang of making like-colored cubes, you can start to create chains of cubes that will increase the bonus you receive for making them disappear. If can't clear them quickly enough, the screen will fill with blocks, and it'll be game over.

The onscreen action is given a unique twist, thanks to the simple but stylish presentation, which includes artsy backgrounds that reflect the game's catchy soundtrack. While Lumines' gameplay revolves around clearing blocks on the playfield, the music is a large part of the experience, as the appearance of the playfield and background will change to match the tunes that are playing.

Lumines gets quite a bit of mileage out of its puzzle mechanics, thanks to the variety of different modes in the game. You'll find four main modes, some of which have their own variations. The single-player mode has three ways to play solo in the game: Challenge is a straightforward arcade-style mode that asks you to last as long as you can and get the highest score you can manage in the process. Single skin challenges you to work for a high score on a map that remains focused on a single playfield, or skin. The last single-player variant is time attack, which tasks you with going out and getting as high a score as possible during a set amount of time. When opting to play a time attack game, you'll be able to choose the duration of your match--60, 180, 300, or 600 seconds.

Lumines' visuals are truly wild.
Lumines' visuals are truly wild.

If you're looking for a different type of single-player experience, you'll find a puzzle mode that challenges you to match certain designs by arranging the falling blocks. There's also a versus CPU mode that will pit you against AI-controlled opponents, and allow you to launch attacks on your AI foes by clearing segments of blocks on your board. Finally, the game features a versus two-player mode that lets you take on a friend in head-to-head play using the PSP's Wi-Fi capabilities.

While the gameplay mechanic of clearing like-colored blocks remains basically the same, the different modes have a different feel to them based on your needs. The challenge and single skin games require you to get in a marathon mindset and focus on lasting as long as possible, which means planning your moves carefully. On the other end of the spectrum, the time attack and versus games require you to be more aggressive in your playing.

Lumines offers some incentive to explore the various modes in the form of unlockables that you'll earn by playing through the different game types. You'll earn new skins and character avatars that will be saved to the character profile you create in the game, as well as new challenges for the puzzle mode. The avatars will let you customize your onscreen persona, which, while not that big a deal in single-player, is a nice touch when facing off against a foe in multiplayer.

As for how the game plays, Lumines' control is about as straightforward as it gets. You'll use the D pad to direct the falling blocks as they drop from the top of the screen, and use the PSP's buttons to rotate the blocks to your liking. The game includes three different control configurations that let you map rotating the blocks to either the PSP's face buttons or its shoulder buttons. The simple control scheme works well and ensures that anyone can get into the game almost immediately.

The rock-solid gameplay is complemented by a very cool array of visuals that are geared more toward creating a unique visual experience than pushing the PSP hardware to its limits. Lumines' visuals feature a unique pastiche of art styles and imagery, mixing '60s pop art, impressionistic animated pieces, and trippy modern designs that pop off the PSP screen. The end result is a distinct atmosphere that suits the gameplay well.

Lumines' cool visuals are complemented by an eclectic soundtrack made up of both original tracks and music from well-known Japanese artists Eri Nobuchika and Mondo Grosso. The club tunes are diverse and feature a catchy array of beats that help pull you into the unique experience. The soundtrack is punctuated by subtle effects used for key actions in the game, such as rotating your blocks and clearing groups, and these effects even seem to change to fit with whatever music track is currently playing. While some of the sound effects seem to be a little too subtle in places, the audio in Lumines definitely gives the game an undeniable charm.

Blocks! Blocks!
Blocks! Blocks!

But, like any launch title, Lumines isn't quite perfect. The game's load times are a little on the long side, and there are some pauses in the audio as new music tracks and skins load while you play. It also would've been nice to have seen a little more variety in the game's music tracks, which tend to play in a set order. While not major issues, these minor technical flaws tend to pull you out of the experience.

Judging from what we've played so far, Lumines is a funky launch title for the PSP that has an undeniable charm. The game's modest but artistically impressive visuals and accessible gameplay make for an appealing package that's worth a look. Despite the few minor issues we mentioned, the game is very fun, and, while it may not be as immediately flashy as some of the other launch titles, it still has a lot to offer. If you're looking to import Lumines, you shouldn't have any trouble getting around in the game, as it's almost all in English. Lumines was just released for the PSP in Japan, and a US release date has yet to be announced by Bandai. Hopefully the game will find its way to US shores next year.

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