Originally a console video game, Lumines enjoyed massive amounts of acclaim – and we do mean massive – when it launched on Sony’s PlayStation Portable (PSP) back in 2005. A later version for the Xbox Live Arcade was also well-received. If you aren’t a console gamer, though, now’s your chance to finally download and play Lumines on a PC courtesy of WildTangent. And it’s well worth your while to do so, seeing as Lumines one of the best puzzle games to come along since Tetris.
It’s lofty praise to mention Lumines in the same breath as one of the all-time classics, but bear with me. Lumines and Tetris actually have some gameplay elements in common: blocks fall from the top of the screen, and players manipulate them into patterns to clear them off the playing field and score points. But where Tetris challenges players to fit random geometric shapes into ordered rows, in Lumines the goal is to arrange 2×2 bi-colored squares into larger blocks of the same color. A single color block can grow as big as the player makes it, as long as the shape is some multiple of two – for example, 2×3, 4×4, 2×8, and so on. A line sweeps across the screen at regular intervals, clearing any color blocks from the screen as it passes by. If the screen fills up and blocks touch the top, it’s game over.
It’s a simple enough concept to get into, but one that offers an incredibly deep and satisfying gaming experience. A big part of the reason for that is thanks to the game’s superb balance. Unlike Tetris, the blocks in Lumines don’t just keep falling faster and faster until it’s impossible to continue unless you’re some sort of cyborg with super-human reflexes. Instead, each new level in Lumines is like ebb and flow, with blocks falling and the line sweeping across at various speeds – sometimes super slow, and sometimes quickly. (Incidentally, slower is not always better in Lumines, because the longer the line takes to arrive, the longer blocks have to pile up before they can be cleared.)
In another stroke of genius, the developers chose not to clutter Lumines with countless power-ups. Instead, there’s only one, but it’s a doozy. Occasionally a special square containing a jewel will fall that, if turned into a block, will create a chain that will allow the sweeper to clear all squares of the same color on the screen in one pass – provided they’re all touching each other in some way.
Don’t be surprised if you find yourself entering a kind of zen-like state of concentration where you play the game for hours at a time. Unlike other arcade-style puzzlers, though, I never came away from a session of Lumines feeling tense or frazzled.
Bold colors and a trippy soundtrack of funky techno-infused music give Lumines a slick vibe. While techno might not be everyone’s cup of tea, the music in Lumines is actually much more than just background noise – every action you make in the game is accompanied by a musical embellishment, like a piano flourish or vocalization when you drop a square to form a color block. As you get on a roll clearing blocks and earning bonus multipliers, the soundtrack will change dynamically to become more energetic.
In addition to the main Challenge mode, Lumines offers a Puzzle Mode where you must recreate a given shape, such as “A” or a 4×4 square, by arranging falling blocks to match the pattern; Mission mode, which includes challenges like clearing all blocks on the screen in one move; Time Attack mode where you must erase as many squares as possible in a given time limit; and a Skin Edit mode where you can arrange levels you’ve unlocked in challenge mode in any order to create your own custom “playlist.” The game also keeps track of your player history and various stats, and lets you view the medals you’ve earned for achieving milestones like clearing Challenge mode or beating Time Attack scores.
While the game is a little “hardcore” in its presentation and might seem intense at first, those who bear with Lumines will discover a truly classic puzzle game that is well-deserving of a home on the PC.