Review: Lumines: Electronic Symphony (PSV)

Title: Lumines: Electronic Symphony
Format: PlayStation Network Download (722 MB) / Game Card
Release Date: February 14, 2012
Publisher: UBISoft
Developer: Q? Entertainment
Original MSRP: $35.99 (PSN) / $39.99 (Game Card)
ESRB Rating: E
Lumines: Electronic Symphony is exclusive to the PlayStation Vita.

Audio Review:
The audio review for this game is available on Episode 257 of the podcast.

Ah Lumines, the wonderfully addictive puzzler that made its debut at the launch of the PSP is back to christen Sony’s newest handheld, the Vita. The object of the game is simple, as blocks fall from the top of the screen, you need to rotate and place them to create uniformly colored 2×2 squares. A Time Line continuously moves from left to right across the screen and removes any solid blocks you’ve created. If your pile of blocks reaches the top of the screen, the game is over. Fiendishly simple.

This new version adds the requisite touch controls of course. You can slide your finger across the screen to move the blocks as they fall while tapping on the right or left side will rotate the block clockwise or counter-clockwise respectively. It works as a control scheme, but for the fast paced higher levels, I just can’t see myself using it. I’ve sunk way too many hours into Lumines and Lumines II on the PSP, Lumines Live! on the Xbox 360, Lumines Plus on the PS2 and Lumines Supernova on the PS3… yes, all of them. To say I love this series would be a bit of an understatement but when I heard it was coming to the Vita, my initial reaction was a bit of a yawn. I thought, “Really? What could they really give me that would make it worth another purchase?” My first hands-on with the game in December with Producer James Mielke opened my eyes.

Why am I so excited? Lumines: Electronic Symphony is essentially the same game we’ve seen in previous iterations but there are some key differences which make this the hands down definitive version of Lumines. The Chain Block is here as always, a shiny treat randomly added to one of the falling blocks every now and then. This block will create a chain of every same colored block that’s connected to it. When used strategically, it can drop out entire sections of the board giving you massive scoring bonuses. Veteran players plan for this block and build up the board with the chain in mind but you have to be much more careful now because of the addition of the brand new Shuffle Block. This is the block that can ruin your day or save your ass and it’s a brilliant addition to the game.

The Shuffle Block does just as it’s name implies, it will shuffle EVERY connected block randomly. Now, on the surface, this seems like a terrible thing and, at times, it can be. On several occasions I’ve spent several rounds building things up around the board preparing to knock them all out with a few carefully placed blocks and in the heat of the moment, I didn’t notice the Shuffle Block coming down, then POOF, everything’s a mess and I have to get my bearings again quickly to start clearing things out or I’m screwed. The flip side is in the late stages of a game when it seems all hope is lost, your blocks are nearing the top of the board and you’re running out of places to put them and suddenly, the Shuffle Block comes along and half the board drops away giving you new life. The effect of such a simple change to the gameplay is astounding.

Other key additions to the game include Avatar Abilities. No longer content to sit on the sidelines and cheer you on, your Avatars now have a purpose and they come in quite handy. Each is bestowed with two Abilities, one for the single player game and one for Duel mode. You’re free to choose from any Avatar you’ve unlocked and they’ll have abilities like generating a Chain Block, a Shuffle Block, freezing the Time Line for about ten seconds, generating three solid color blocks in a row, and so on. These all can come in quite handy and you need to decide how you want to approach the game when choosing your Avatar. To activate the Ability, you simply tap the Avatar with your finger. The trick is that the Ability will need time to recharge which it will do on it’s own, or you can speed up the process by tapping the rear Touch Pad. In Duel mode, your Avatar can turn your opponent’s next blocks invisible, speed up the falling blocks and more. It’s another wonderful addition to an already great game.

Several game modes are available, staring with the heart of the game, Voyage. In this mode you’ll move from song to song, screen to screen until your game ends. Stopwatch is back, where you can play for 30, 60, 180 or 300 seconds, trying to achieve the highest score possible before the timer runs out. Playlist is where you can essentially become the DJ, arranging your favorite tracks in any order to play through once or in an endless loop. Master Mode is only for the hardest of the hardcore. With fast falling blocks and slow Time Lines you need quick reflexes and a little bit of luck to survive here.

Everything you do in the game gains you more XP which in turn unlocks skins and avatars. You can then view all of the unlocks in the Collection Room and use them in the game. It may not seem like much but there’s enough in the overall package to keep you playing for a long time to come.

This was another area where I didn’t expect much improvement. Okay, it’s Lumines, but now it’s on a fancy schmancy OLED screen, whoop dee doo. Well whoop dee doo indeed, boy was I wrong. The background visualizations have gone to a whole new level. They play off the music, enhance the experience and even confuse the hell out of you at times. It doesn’t come across as well in the screen shots, but the blocks now inhabit a fully 3D space and while some show off the effect better than others, when you hit some levels, it can be a bit disorienting. As you move the block back and forth across the screen before dropping it, you’ll see the sides of it and other blocks on the screen seem more prominent giving it all a fish eye lens feel. It’s a wild effect that really threw me the first couple of times I saw it.

Going back and comparing it to previous iterations of the game, I found them to be more simplistic and at times lifeless compared to what we get in Electronic Symphony. Everything sparkles and shines with lighting and particle effects you wouldn’t expect in a simple puzzle game. Each set of blocks also has it’s own unique texture that really adds a wonderful variety to the game. Trust me, it’s just as fun to watch someone play as it is to just kick back and play it yourself. Can you say that about Tetris?

The Lumines games have always been known for the off beat, eclectic soundtracks, but this is by far the best of the best. Producer James Mielke and the team at Q? Entertainment went all out in assembling an amazing group of artists for the game and as you can see from the track list below, it’s out-friggin-standing. Each song is better than the last and I’d absolutely love to have the soundtrack available on the PSN for download.

It goes without saying that this is a game best enjoyed with headphones on and while you can play it using only the Vita’s built in speakers, you’re really missing a big part of the experience. The amazing thing about Lumines games is how the movement and dropping of the blocks have sounds unique to each song that add to the beat and flavor of the mix so you get the feeling of not just listening to the music, but also making it, adding a new and unique experience every time you play. All the background sound effects you’ve come to expect are still there as well and you’ll feel that familiar sense of place if you’ve played previous versions of the game.

The aforementioned Duel Mode is Ad-hoc only and in it, you’ll battle another player on the same screen, trying to clear more blocks and force them off the screen much like the PSP version. You’ve also got online leaderboards where you can compare your stats with Friends or Globally. Gifting Avatars and skins through Near is also available along with an interesting new twist, the World Block. Essentially a massive block that shrinks as players upload their game progress and then resets each day. Every time I’ve tried to add to it however the block has already been cleared so it looks like quite a few people are playing right now.

More than just another puzzle game and by far the best in the franchise produced to date, Lumines: Electronic Symphony is absolutely a must have for puzzle fans and music fans alike. With a few simple tweaks to the game, Q? Entertainment has delivered a whole new experience that will keep you grooving as you obsess for a better score for years to come.


* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Vita’s built in screen capture feature.

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Written by Josh Langford

Josh Langford

Josh has been gaming since 1977 starting with the Atari 2600.
He currently owns 26 different consoles and 6 different handhelds (all hooked up and in working condition) including all consoles from the current generation.

Josh is currently the US PR & Marketing Manager for Fountain Digital Labs and has recused himself from any involvement on PS Nation arising from posting or editing any news or reviews stemming from FDL.

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