It can be argued to no end what the most popular video game of all time is. The Sims, Myst, Solitaire, Mario, Pong? Think even simpler. Little blocks falling down, being rotated and forming lines that are magically removed. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Tetris wins hands down for the simple fact that everyone I know has played it, has then played it some more and will, in one form or another (and without exception) play it again at some point in their lives. I once used a logic analyzer that had a hidden version of Tetris on it with full scoring capability. On a logic analyzer! And why not? It's simple to learn, satisfying, logical, strategic and stays with you long after you've stopped playing. So how do you improve on perfection? That's the goal Lumines had in mind I'm sure.
While playing Tetris we've all at one time or another cursed the block shapes. Admit it! Wouldn't it be a whole lot simpler if there were just the cubes and the lines? And while we're at it, wouldn't some nice music hit the spot as well? Well, Q Entertainment and Bandai/Ubisoft were obviously thinking the same thing. Lumines (pronounced Loo-me-ness) gives you nothing but cubes (2 x 2) to play with. Pressing any face button will rotate the blocks. Pressing down will force the block down quickly. Each piece of each block can be one of two colors. And the whole point of the game is to form colored blocks (2 x 2) of one color of another to eliminate them. Sounds simple right? It is, but there's a little more to this than meets the eye.
During play, you will hear some wonderful music, most of which is made up of trance, dance and pop. The beat of the music controls a Time Line that move from left to right across the large playing field. Once you have formed colored blocks that can be eliminated, they will be marked as such, but will remain on the screen until the Time Line moves over them, thus giving you points. The trick is to eliminate the largest amount of colored scares during each pass of the Time Line. There are also special blocks which set off chain reactions when eliminated. And yes, the game ends when the blocks finally reach the top of the screen. Brilliant.
If this was all that Lumines is, there would still be enough to call it an instant classic. The simplicity of the game lulls you in but toping your previous score and progressing further and further in the game keeps you coming back for more. Lumines also has its fair share of modes to keep it from getting stale. The main mode is simply Challenge mode. In this mode, which you play until you reach the top of the screen, has you progressing through various stages, unlocking new skins, songs and characters (avatars) along the way. This is also the main "bragging rights" mode which keeps track of your high scores. If you want something a little simpler, Single Skin-Mode offers up the same gameplay, but won't change background or skin at any point (which can truly rattle some players). In this mode however, your score isn't tracked, so getting 999,999 points won't really mean anything to anyone unless they are in the room with you. Time Attack mode is a fun diversion which tracks how many colored blocks you can eliminate in 60, 180, 300 or 600 seconds. Eliminate a lot and you'll unlock some nice prizes too. The last of the single player modes is Puzzle Mode in which you will have to use the falling blocks to re-create a shape in an allotted amount of time. This is a nice change of pace from the regular mode, but may be the most frustrating for new players as not much information is given about it in-game or in the manual. For the most part, it's easy enough but it's inevitable that you think you've duplicated the puzzle and find that you've forgotten to keep track of the outer-lying pieces as well. Still, a nice little addition that will keep many gamers busy.
The final modes are the Versus mode. You can at any time play against the CPU which will give you a run for your money or against another PSP owner via Wi-Fi (Ad Hoc). In Versus mode, the screen is split in two and eliminating colored blocks quickly (and many at a time) will stretch your playing field and shrink your opponent's. It may not be as fun as the simple thrill of progressing through the various stages of Challenge Mode, but it's an important addition in this day and age where all games are judged on their multiplayer capabilities. As is stands, Lumines Versus modes are simple and fun but it would've been nice to have another 2-player mode which could have been played on a single PSP (going back and forth between players).
As a puzzle game, how good do Lumines' graphics have to be? Surprisingly, they are sharp and well detailed. Each background has its own theme and the blocks change color/pattern accordingly. In each case however, it's easy to discern the two colors and see at a simple glance the full spectrum of the playing field. Adding special blocks and high combos to the mix does create some visual fireworks but never to the point of distracting you from the job at hand. In the audio department, it's important to note that when playing Challenge Mode you will be playing through the same stages, in the same order, over and over again. You will therefore hear the same songs repeated every time. Luckily, the audio and song content of Lumines is pure ear-candy that you won't mind hearing again and again. The small but simple fact that rotating blocks adds its own little synth beat to the fray will also have you rotating "in time" without even realizing it. You'll be humming these songs long after you've turned you PSP off.
I could write a thesis or a doctorate comparing Tetris to Lumines but it would be useless. It is far easier to acknowledge that without the one the other would probably not exist and move on from there. It is time far better spent to tell you how all-encompassing Lumines really is. You will play it initially, enjoy it and walk away. But it will stay with you. You will come back to it and try it again and realize how clever it is. And at night you will have dreams about those little colored cubes and how to get rid of them quickly. You will wake up and want to play Lumines over and over again, always getting better until you come to a point where you will curse its limitations (and lack of other block types) and oddly enough, you will then accept it for what it is and become one with it. Lumines is a Zen-like experience that stays with you long after you've first played it and always feels fresh and fun. Everyone you know would enjoy playing it and you will never be able to simply play it once. It is without a doubt the best PSP game out at the moment and I'm sure that we'll see its concept pop up everywhere in the near future. If you own a PSP, you absolutely must own Lumines. If you don't own a PSP, this is the game that will change your mind.