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Sean Pettibone

Lumines (PSP)

By Michael Palisano

Touted as one of the most innovative PSP launch titles, the unique puzzler Lumines creates a mesmerizing, addictive experience. The simplistic gameplay belies what is one of the more robust PSP titles to date, with action that pulsates and launches off the screen. The visuals are simply amazing, with multiple backgrounds or skins that give Lumines a techno/industrial feel all its own.  While the single player mode is addictive, the two-player challenge modes are where Lumines really hits the mark, with additional modes that extend the gameís longevity. Lumines isnít the most complicated game on the market, but its addictive gameplay will keep you occupied for hours.

Developed by legendary REZ creator Tetsuya MizuguchiĎs Q Entertainment for Bandai in Japan and released in North America by Ubisoft, the innovative Lumines is a unique puzzle title for the PSP that takes the genre in some surprising new directions. On the surface, you can be forgiven for wondering why such a seemingly average puzzle title has gotten so much attention. Dig deeper and youíll find a unique title where the presentation and graphical approach exceeds your expectations, pushing the puzzle genre to new heights. Itís surreal techno/rave feel is definitely unique, giving the game a personality all its own. The production values are really slick, especially by console standards, but underneath the flash lies a solid game with simple, yet addcitive gameplay mechanics. Luminesí basic elements are fairly easy to explain and understand, allowing most players to pick the game right up and start playing immediately. In its single player mode, Lumines is somewhat reminiscent of classic puzzle titles such as Tetris and Columns.

Luminesí basic gameplay involves arranging a series falling blocks into formations to clear them from the board. There are few twists to keep things interesting. The blocks are split into two colors (which change depending on what skin you have) and these colors have to be arranged into square groups of 4 like colors and are then deleted. You can spin the blocks to change the color arrangement and make them match up with existing areas at the bottom of the screen. You can also clear larger groups of blocks of like color to create larger combos and increase your score. However, they donít clear automatically when placed. Thereís an indicator called a Time Line that moves vertically across the screen. When the Time Line reaches an appropriate block, they clear the screen. As you clear more block formations, the music and beats increase in speed and intensity, making for a more exciting game. After you have deleted a set number of blocks, the background and main block colors change dramatically. This indicates that youíve earned a new skin, which can then be accessed in other modes as well. Itís very simple to play, but as with the best puzzle titles, difficult to master, especially when you reach the later levels where things move much faster. This will pose quite a challenge since Lumines  features 24 different skins and levels to unlock, which get progressively more difficult.

Its single player mode is engaging and addictive, but Lumines also offers a few variations that allow you to play a single skin to try and reach a high-score and achieve a large number of cleared levels. Players can also choose to play a Time Attack mode, where they have a set time limit to complete as many blocks as possible. This is absolutely a perfect mode if you want to play a quick game on the go and well suited for handheld play. Thereís also a very cool Puzzle  mode that gives you a set time to recreate a figure such as a large block or a cross with the blocks. This is a lot more challenging than it sounds, since the shapes quickly become much harder to achieve. Lumines also offers a number of multiplayer options including a cool Duel mode. When you play in this mode, each player starts with an equal sized section of the screen, and can increase their size by performing combos and making Links. How much of an opponentís screen you take depends on how elaborate your combos are. These battles can become quite intense, so it goes without saying that the Duel mode is quite addictive in its own right. Playing in this mode requires a different approach to the strategy, with the competition aspects adding an almost completely different feel to the basic gameplay structure.  Players can also challenge the PSP itself in the Vs. CPU mode, which presents quite a challenge as well. Lumines can also be played head-to-head online using the PSPís Wi-Fi capabilities. Itís fairly easy to sign on and set up games in this mode, which offers the same intensity as the off-line game. The sheer number of modes and gameplay styles included in the game is quite impressive, giving Lumines plenty of replay value.

If all of this seems rather average for a puzzle title, youíd be right, However Lumines succeeds far beyond what youíd expect thanks to itís unique presentation. The gameís look and feel is techno-sleek throughout with a beautiful, futuristic feel highlighted by intense, vibrating backgrounds that enhance the overall experience. The gameís fluidly animated backdrops create a beautiful, surreal landscape that sucks you right into the action. This sleek techno feel is further enhanced by the pulsing soundtrack, which further immerses you into the beats. Take all these elements together and you have a puzzle game that offers something quite unique. This hyper-real approach is somewhat similar to Rez, with a constantly morphing game field that feels very much alive. Thereís a unique flow and rhythm to the game that makes you want to keep playing for an extended period. While itís not as revolutionary as Rez was, Lumines still offers gamers a truly unique, viscerally exciting experience that most players wonít want to miss.

While Luminesí gameplay is straightforward, and to be honest, somewhat unremarkable for the puzzle genre, the gameís brilliant presentation, superb soundtrack and multiplayer modes are what really sets it apart from most other puzzle titles on the market. The graphics and visuals are incredibly vibrant, and really show off the PSPís power and versatility. Earning new skins, and mastering the more complex strategies of the later levels makes for an addictive, challenging title. Itís simple gameplay makes it easy to understand but the real enjoyment comes in the overall experience, which is as unique and innovative as any title released in the past five years. Our hats go off to Ubisoft for releasing such a daring, unique title in the first place. In a market saturated with me-too titles, something as refreshingly different immediately stands out. Lumines is probably the most innovative and addictive title in the PSP launch library, making it an essential purchase for any owner of the new Sony handheld.  

Grade: B

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