Whenever a new videogames console is released there's always talk of the 'killer app' - the one game that will convince the public to part with their, in most cases, hard earned cash. One of the criteria for a great handheld game is the ability to pick it up and play for short periods of time - not to say that depth isn't important though. In Tetris, the Game Boy had its 'killer app' thanks to its addictive pick up and play gameplay that had gamers coming back for more and more and more (I could go on but you get my point). Is Lumines the modern day Tetris?
Lumines is the brainchild of the man behind the cult musical inspired games, Rez and Space Channel 5, and as with these games, music and timing are the key to success. Initially Lumines looks like a Tetris clone, and you can be forgiven for thinking this as it does share several similarities. You must guide falling blocks, each made of four smaller squares, into position to form blocks of the same colour at least 2 by 2 in size. Blocks can be rotated and moved into the position you wish, but unlike Tetris, individual squares continue to fall until they cannot go any further, thus filling all gaps.
The core difference between Tetris and Lumines is that while blocks do vanish once you make a successful combination, this only happens once the 'timeline' passes over the blocks of colour you have created. Once a block of colour at least 2 by 2 in size has been created it will be highlighted, but remain on screen until the 'timeline' passes over the block. This means you can have multiple blocks of colour in the game area waiting to be cleared by the 'timeline'. This is actually encouraged, as the game will reward you with more points, the more blocks that are cleared in one swipe of the 'timeline'. It's actually possible to clear the entire screen, resulting in a rather large number of bonus points, but this is usually only possible with the aid of the special block which clears all connected blocks of the same colour. As with Tetris, the game will end once the blocks stack too high.
The challenge mode, which is essentially a 'last as long as you can' affair, is what you'll spend most of your time with. What makes this mode so good is the way the game is split into different levels known as 'skins'. Each 'skin' has a unique feel and plays differently to the next. As well as a different look graphically, the blocks will fall faster and the speed the 'timeline' moves across the screen will change. In a rather clever twist the timeline will actually move slower on later levels. This gives you the chance for higher scores, but makes it much more difficult to survive.
'... one of the most impressive audio and visual experiences on any console to date.'
As you progress through the challenge mode you'll unlock skins to play through in single skin mode. Here you can pick a skin to play with no time limit imposed. One of the more frantic modes is time attack play. In this mode you set a time limit of 1 minute, 3 minutes, 5 minutes or 10 minutes, and are challenged to create as many squares as possible in the set time. This is a nice addition to the main challenge mode with the emphasis on making blocks and not so much on long term survival, although the two do go hand in hand. The last of the single player modes is Puzzle mode, where you're given the task of recreating shapes. It might sound easy, but it's actually quite tricky. Finally getting the required shape only for the time to run out fractions of a second before the 'timeline' fully passes over the shape is incredibly frustrating.
I criticised another PSP puzzler, Mercury, for having a bit of a throwaway two player mode. Thankfully Lumines delivers on this front with a very entertaining Vs mode, against the CPU or wirelessly against a human opponent (I say human, but anything capable could play against you). In this mode the game area is split in two with a bar down the middle. When you clear blocks from your game area the bar will move across making your opponent's area smaller and therefore much more difficult for them to succeed. The only disappointing aspect about the multiplayer mode is the fact that your opponent will need a copy of the game.
Visually Lumines actually looks quite impressive. Whilst not boasting beautifully rendered 3D environments or lavish motion captured animation (actually, they really should have mo-capped some falling blocks) the game does have an elegant style and always looks vibrant, almost alive as it reacts to your actions and pulses to the soundtrack's beat. As much as I like the visual flair that Lumines brings to the table, it's the game's audio that really excels. Featuring tracks by Japanese club music pioneer Mondo Grosso, the audio track will respond to what is happening in the game as if a living and breathing entity. A different track will play during each new skin and some tracks are so good that you'll be playing certain skins again just to listen to your favourite tune. Looking at screens of Lumines really does the game no justice, for what is one of the most impressive audio and visual experiences on any console to date.
Puzzlers are not for everyone, but I strongly recommend you give Lumines a try. Quite simply it's not just the best puzzler on the PSP, but one of the best puzzlers of all time. Beating you high scores will keep you coming back for more, as will the excellent multiplayer mode, and combined with the time attack and puzzle mode, Lumines gives you plenty of gaming hours for your money.