Rob Dillman On April 23, 2012 at 3:24 pm

There is one compliment that reigns supreme over any other given to a puzzle game. RPGs have their storytelling. Fighters and RTSes have their competitive balance and strategy. Puzzle games, more than any other genre, have their unbridled addictive natures. If a puzzle game doesn’t cause its players to spend every waking moment in societal functions and obligations thinking about it like a brain-starved zombie (or a, well, puzzle game-starved Star Trek: TNG character) for the first week after playing it, it doesn’t belong in the pantheon of puzzle games. Ubisoft’s Lumines: Electronic Symphony proves once again that the Lumines series has undeniably earned its place there.

Simplicity. The most memorable puzzle games all embody this one quality. As expected, Lumines is no exception, and its gameplay can be described in one sentence: Match up rectangular shapes of the same color using falling 2×2 blocks composed of two separate colors. It sounds easy, but as with any puzzle game, performing this task for any extended period of time proves more challenging than any contrived plot to save the world found in any other genre.

Of course, Lumines’ appeal isn’t quite that shallow. Unlike other puzzle games, the presentation of Lumines shifts over time with its “skins.” Each background song from the game’s fully-licensed soundtrack is accompanied by a unique graphical background and design/color for the blocks on the screen. After a certain number of blocks are destroyed, the skin will change, keeping the gaming experience fresh and adding replayability.

Most of Electronic Symphony’s modes are familiar to Lumines veterans. In the game’s Voyage Mode, skins are presented to the player in a fixed order, becoming available to play on-demand in the Playlist Mode when finally reached in Voyage. Stopwatch Mode challenges players to beat high scores in a limited amount of time. Master Mode takes five non-stop skins and batters those looking for a challenge into complete submission. Duel Mode is back once again for those looking for some ad hoc competition with their friends. Sadly, no online head-to-head play is included.

So what’s new for this version of Lumines? As it turns out, developer Q Entertainment has added quite a bit in this installment. As previously stated, the game’s soundtrack is fully-licensed with tracks that have never appeared in another Lumines. Avatars with unique effects can be used after being charged up by either the back touchscreen or through normal gameplay to bestow powerups onto struggling players. And just to sweeten the presentation even further, Electronic Symphony is the first Lumines game to use fully 3D blocks and skins, making the Lumines series look better than ever.

Possibly its most significant change is its strides in accessibility. Instead of limiting the full potential of Playlist Mode to the top tier of players, Q Entertainment has added a more accessible XP system that allows players to unlock skins and avatars through playing the game instead of getting insanely high scores. The better Lumines players may see this as blasphemy, but there’s no doubt that this makes the Lumines experience friendlier to a wider market.

Of course, no Vita launch title is complete without gratuitous touch controls, and they are present in spades. Both the front and back touchscreens can be used in regular gameplay. However, the front touchscreen makes for an awful substitute for the buttons and control stick/d-pad, and the use of tapping the back touchscreen to charge the avatar, while an incredibly useful gameplay element, is completely distracting and frustrating to use in normal gameplay on a portable device. Like most shoehorned touchscreen controls, it makes as much sense to use them over buttons in playing a game as it does using a hammer over a slicer to slice cheese. Sure, it will eventually work, but it’s a headache.

Online functionality is the only negative this game has. I don’t know anyone else with both a Vita and this game, so I can’t test out Duel Mode, as ad hoc play is the only multiplayer present. Both overall and friend leaderboards are present for those who wish to battle It out in high scores alone, but nothing beats competing against friends and puzzle enthusiasts in real-time. Electronic Symphony adds a neat communal challenge in the gigantic World Block for an XP bonus, but unless a player happens to be logged on and ready to upload their results in a last-ditch effort to diminish it at the end of the day, it’s hardly satisfying.

Lumines: Electronic Symphony is a great addition to the series. Puzzle enthusiasts who have not played Lumines should give it a try. Puzzle enthusiasts who love electronic music should run to their local game stores and clear their schedules. Lumines veterans should probably weigh whether they still have interest in the series. Like any puzzle game, Lumines only remains alluring for a period of time. Without a doubt, though, there’s enough here to justify a new installment, and the soundtrack, gameplay, and graphics make this the most polished installment to date.


Lumines’ tried-and-true gameplay is as addictive as ever.


Lumines is colorful, and its new 3D graphics add to the psychedelic fun.


The soundtrack is marvelous and is almost as integral to the experience as the gameplay.


If this game had solid online gameplay, I’d bump this up a point. Those only caring for a solid single-player experience should take this into account. It’s a worthy puzzle game for the Vita.

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