A year and a half after its initial release, I still play Lumines religiously. Oddly enough, I can't say that about many games in my library. When I don't know what to play on the PSP, I play Lumines. When I don't know what to play on the Xbox 360, I play Lumines on Xbox Live Arcade. And now, even amidst a month of quality releases on all platforms, I still find myself wasting away on my PSP playing Lumines II. It's staggering to think that the world has only been exposed to the Lumines concept for 18 months. It seems that I've been playing it for a lot longer than that and I consider it to be as ingrained into pop-culture and gaming as much as Tetris or Pac-Man. Thankfully, Q Entertainment hasn't changed the concept at all for the sequel and preferred to simply give us more of what we enjoyed.
The concept is so simple; it's surprising no one had ever done before: 2x2 square blocks drop from the top into an open grid. These blocks have 2 colors. You simply arrange them in a way so that they will form 2x2 squares of one same color and thereby get eliminated as a "timeline" passes over them. The catch? The timeline's speed is dictated by music. A slow song means a slower timeline which will allow you to rack up combos, but which will also leave you with more blocks on-screen if you've been stockpiling them. A faster timeline means that your blocks will be removed faster, but it also means that you're less likely to make large combos with your blocks. It's a careful balance that also illustrates one of Lumines' stronger points: music.
While the game can be played without volume (yes, I've done it late at night so as not to wake anyone), it really comes to life when music is added to it. Each stage/level is referred to as a skin and it's really the fun of collecting and experiencing these that will keep you addicted. Each skin features its own color scheme, speed and musical score. This might not be such a big deal except that each skin also has its own feel to it. While it may sound odd, some skins are easier to play, some are harder, some are more fun and some are just downright nasty. And yes, the gameplay remains the same throughout, thus illustrating the brilliance of the concept. The Lumines concept is one that carefully balances gameplay, audio and a classic puzzle concept in such a way that you can easily find yourself playing for hours without noticing it.
As mentioned, Q Entertainment hasn't changed much with this new version. In fact, some may feel that hardly anything has been changed. The modes (puzzle, time attack, versus CPU, single player, edit mode) are largely the same (and feature some of the same puzzles) and the new mode, Mission, has already been done on the Xbox 360 version. In this mode you simply have to clear the blocks onscreen using a set amount of blocks. It's actually a great way to refine your Lumines skills. But what will really set this version apart from the previous (and even the X360 version) is the new (and returning) list of skins. The songs are as addictive as ever and the inclusion of known tracks by licensed artists is a welcomed addition. The other new inclusions include three new tiers of difficulty as well and an Enduro mode (for elite players only) which is really just an endurance challenge as the title indicates.
What may prove to also be quite enjoyable for veterans of the first Lumines is the Sequencer mode which allows you (with several restrictions) to create your own skins for the game. Being able to upload these to a server would have been an amazing idea as well. And speaking of creation and customization, Lumines II also allows you to fully customize the look and feel of the game to suit your preferences including the head's up display. An inane addition, but one that's really appreciated.
Graphically, after playing the X360 version for hours, I was a little worried about playing Lumines on a handheld again, but not so. On the smaller screen, Lumines II proves to be as sharp and crisp as any version out there. The new skins are beautiful and the background videos included with some of them are not only neat to look at, but sometimes add a level of difficulty to an otherwise static background. The only real nitpick graphically is that when new skins are loaded there's sometimes a small transitional pause incurred that's just long enough to be distracting.
In the audio department, Lumines II is nothing short of exemplary. Whether listening to the game using the PSPs speakers of with headphones, the mixes are amazing and the songs are catchy and addictive. The need to add licensed tracks to the mix is a debatable point since the series was in no great need of help in the music department. I can see the draw however of playing Lumines to your favorite songs or watching Fergie "Pump It" in the background. In the end, the original content would have sufficed, and the licensed stuff is just icing on the cake.
The biggest disappoints that Lumines II offers is the lack of online modes and downloadable content. After playing on Xbox Live for hours against others around the world, it's hard to be relegated to playing Lumines II against either friends with PSPs (using the Ad-Hoc mode) or versus the CPU which is simply fun to a point. The thrill of beating a live opponent is a rush and one that will obviously elude the PSP's Lumines until the third version is released. Online scoreboards would have also been fun as well as downloadable content including user-made tracks made using the sequencer.
In the end, the question simply comes down to this: Is Lumines II worth a purchase for fans and owners of the original? The answer is yes. With more content and a few extras here and there, Lumines II is unquestionably a more complete experience. The tiered difficulty alone warrants an upgrade. For newcomers, the choice should also be Lumines II for the same reasons. In the end though, Lumines II does get a lower rating then the original Lumines simply because the "wow" factor of playing something completely new and different is gone and for all intents and purposes, Lumines II is simply an upgrade to the original. But make no mistake about it though; Lumines (in any version) remains an addictive game that can easily stand next to Tetris as one of the greatest puzzlers of all time.