Lumines (Import)

January 10, 2005

[floatleft][/floatleft]One. Two. Three. Four. One. Two. Three. Four. [i]Lumines'[/i] beat will hum within you as you play, a living entity in your hands, pulsing away. In the tradition of [i]Rez[/i], [i]Lumines'[/i] music is archetypal to the entire experience, making each new level another joy to hear and play. You’ll scramble frantically, your brow furrowing, as the beat changes from an eased pop ballad to a thumping industrial tone, or to a frenetic techno fizz that jumps out at you from nowhere. Just when you think you’ve pinned a song down, it’s changed, and you’ve got another aural demon to exorcise.

The actual point of Lumines is to make chains of four-by-four blocks. With each cross of the screen-wide line (which moves at a speed dictated by the song), the connected blocks will disappear. With a one-square block (with a smaller square within it), you are able to eliminate any connected blocks of the same color in one swoop, causing a meltdown onscreen and making your character jump for joy. At first, this is a deeply demoralizing and pain-filled experience-[i]Lumines[/i] is tough, unforgiving, and at first, utterly confusing.

[floatright][/floatright]With a multitude of block games asking us to make lines, the need to make squares is a sudden, frightening change. Instantly, you are thrown into a world where your previous experiences do not matter-this is [i]Lumines[/i], get in line. Once you have attuned yourself to the world and realize what you are doing, affixing blocks becomes a slow process. Eventually, realizing the beat of the track, one is able to realize just what sort of speed of drops they are dealing with, and move accordingly.

And what wonderful, beautiful music you will make. Each combo and deletion of blocks makes a symphonic clash, each shift of the four-by-fours a blip or a bang in the song. From the haunting Depeche-Modian anthem of “Urbanization,” to the relaxing, spacey “Shinin,'” [i]Lumines[/i] engages the musical power of the PSP, willing the users to equip themselves with headphones. While the speakers are apt enough to deal with the task in a quiet room, on a journey you will want to hear the beat. You will need to hear it. Otherwise, you’ll fall behind, and on challenge mode that just won’t do.

You see, [i]Lumines[/i] is tough-as in over-cooked-steak-meets-rubber-tree tough. The challenge mode has no function for continuing, thus the constantly changing music demands a shift in the player’s style to which most will have trouble adjusting. Each playthrough of challenge will require seeing every track through to the end to reach and unlock the next. Yet, suffering a defeat at [i]Lumines'[/i] hands is not painful-it is sometimes the case of a joyous overwhelming feeling of understanding. You realize what you did wrong. You apply it next time and become better and better with each play. You adapt. Against the computer opponents, you will learn their individual styles that compliment the music and then use it against them. This is a game of skill, patience, and dedication that pays off in satisfaction.

[floatleft][/floatleft][i]Lumines[/i] is a genuinely beautiful game. Though the graphical elements are definitely not the forte of the game, they are smooth, trailing, hypnotic waves of color that serve to play out the puzzle action and complement the musical side. The simplicity of them may fool the less cerebral into thinking that this is a child’s game, but no child will tackle this. Some adults will find it a bamboozling, frightening game that throws them into a corner and beats them without mercy. Others will, like a cornered wolf, recoil and attack the game tooth and nail, learning what they need to learn and dedicating hours to the sheer beauty of it.

Whether or not [i]Lumines[/i] receives a European or American release, it is a necessary title for you to own. Had it been released on the PS2, it would be somewhat as effective; however, the portable nature allows the user to become absorbed within the rainbow of colors and sounds that make up the game. With headphones and a quiet room, this will only become better. The difficulty means that it will take many hours to master and unlock the many tracks, but some players may be put off by the seemingly insane difficulty curve. Your first few tries will be staggering failures of your gaming ability, as you try and make lines disappear without victory.

But you will learn. You will learn, because within every defeat, there will be a glimmer of hope. A glimmer of slow, burning addiction and love for one of the most enjoyable, memorable games to come for many years. While [i]Rez[/i] felt slightly distant, even pointless at times, [i]Lumines[/i] burns with a purpose that threatens to set lesser titles alight in its presence. This is not only an excellent launch title, but an excellent title in itself.