There were many controversial video game moments in 2006, but the award for the "Event that Caused the Most Unexpected Internet Video Game Community Outburst" goes to the price of Lumines Live! for Xbox Live Arcade. Not only did the game release at 1200 Microsoft Points, but an add-on pack was released for 600 MS points, and there was talk of even more add-ons coming down the line. Those add-ons have now arrived, taking the available Lumines package to an impressive 2550 points (taken at non-promo prices). Is it really the video game scandal it was made out to be?
In a word: No. Lumines Live! is by far the most impressive Live Arcade title to hit Microsoft's console. If you've played any of the Lumines games that have hit numerous platforms over the last few years, the gameplay in Lumines Live! won't throw up too many surprises. For those not in the know, Lumines is a Tetris-like dropping block puzzler, but with a musical twist. Blocks of 2x2 are made up of smaller blocks, which can be any combination of the two colours used in the current stage. Your aim is to remove these coloured blocks by building structures of the same colour of 2x2 in size.
The slight twist is that these shapes aren't removed the instant that they're formed. A bar passes across the screen in time with the music, and it's this that clears all formed shapes. This slight change from the usual block dropping puzzler gameplay opens the possibility of huge combos that can clear big chunks of the screen. Create a 2x2 block just after the bar passes across and then you have time to stack on extra coloured blocks, increasing that 2x2 to 3x2, 4x2 or more. With all blocks that don't land on an underlying block splitting and then falling until they reach a surface, there's far more to this simple looking game than meets the eye.
The Challenge mode will keep you addicted for days, if not months, as you initially try to unlock all the skins (these give the game its constantly changing look) and then go for high scores and Achievement points. Combine this with the "I'll just have one more go" Time Trial mode and there needn't have been any more to Lumines Live! in order to get your money's worth.
But there is more - a lot more if you've bought the add-ons. A ten-stage versus CPU mode, that uses the age-old method of reducing the playing filed of the losing player, poses enough of a challenge to push all but Lumines veterans, and it too provides you with more skins to unlock. And what about the awesome Puzzle and Mission modes, which see you trying to make certain shapes and perform certain tasks respectively? They're modes that even the mighty Tetris would be jealous of, if it had feelings. At times they'll cause you to tear your hair out, but only because you know you're doing something wrong - usually at a crucial stage.
All of the skins you unlock can be used in the Skin Edit mode, in which you pick out your favourites to play through, while competing for high scores and Achievement points. One thing remains constant throughout, and that's the almost hypnotic state you'll fall under while playing the game. It's impossible not to slip into a rhythm, and, if they're not careful, even innocent bystanders watching you play will fall under its spell, only coming to life in order to rant about how you should have placed a block differently.
On top of the single-player modes there's two-player support on a single console and online play over Xbox Live. Presentation is spot on, with the game sporting the best visuals I can imagine fitting a game of this type, and the audio is simply superb, with surround sound effects being dropped in to spice things up. It's a sleek game, with everything from the main menu to the digitised voice that reads out the game mode names being an absolutely perfect fit.
With the current complete package costing a tad more than £20, rather than being a rip-off, Lumines Live! represents one of the most impressive games available for the Xbox Live Arcade service. What's more, if you're an Xbox Live Gold member and buy the add-ons before February 21, 2007, you'll be able to get it all for 2000 points, which will be covered by a single £18 Microsoft Points card. In relation to the other titles on the Live Arcade, it's a high price, but this is a game that you'll be coming back to months down the line, making it an essential download.