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Score: 97%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Ubisoft Entertainment
Developer: Q Entertainment
Media: UMD/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Puzzle

Graphics & Sound:
Tetris is sometimes credited as being one of the key factors in the success of the original GameBoy. With this in mind, it's fitting that the PSP, the next generation of handheld gaming, would ship with a game that can be considered the next generation of puzzle games. The brainchild of Tetsuya Mizuguchi, the mind behind the cult hit Rez, Lumines is a fusion of sound, lights and mind-bending puzzles that is easy to play, but that doesn't mean you'll master it anytime soon.

Presentation is a big part of what makes Lumines stand out among other puzzle games. The display is as simple as the game's premises; you have colored blocks that you're trying to match into groups. As you progress through the game, the entire presentation will shift, giving you a completely new experience. Each time you transition to a new "level", the entire screen phases into another skin. The effect makes you feel like you're actually accomplishing something and moving on in the game.

Backgrounds and music blend together into a light show complete with all kinds of pyrotechnics going off. With all these lights and sounds going off, you'd expect that it would distract you from puzzle solving. With the exception of maybe one or two skins (the VR one springs to mind), distractions are kept to a minimum and let you concentrate on the gameplay.

Music plays a big part in both keeping you around and turning up the pressure. As the blocks begin to stack up and you're in danger of losing, parts of the soundtrack will cut out, keeping to just the central rhythm. The effect is small, but ends up adding real weight to the game, as if the soundtrack itself was holding its breath. If you manage to knock your piles to a safe level, the soundtrack will exhale and kick back in at full throttle. The soundtrack is more techno/trance music, which may or may not appeal to everyone. I've personally never cared for it, but liked it within the confines of the game.

Like Tetris, gameplay is very straightforward and easy to jump into. The basic concept is to match up like-colored blocks into squares and rectangles. As you match blocks, a line called the Time Line will scan across the screen and clear away any matches you've made. Every once in awhile special blocks will show up which, when cleared, will also remove all blocks of the same color that may be touching the cleared square. Since you are able to see the next three blocks in your queue, you can usually set up some really slick combos that can -- if you time it right -- clear out large sections of the screen (and net you some nice bonus points).

Lumines offers a few different play modes, adding even more replay value to an already addictive game. A bulk of the modes are built around the single-player experience, although a two-player option is also available for those who want to hook up with a friend (provided they have the game as well). Challenge is sort of the core game mode and is where you'll unlock most of the skins available in the game. It's also the longer of the available game modes since you're not timed. This mode is essentially an endless version where you keep clearing blocks as long as you can. Each time you hit a certain score, the background and music will change. The only problem I was able to find with this mode was that if you lose, you're forced to go all the way back to the beginning. I can see why the game works this way, but would have at least liked the option to start at a mid-point, maybe at every fifth skin. Not only would it make the game friendlier to the more casual puzzle gamer, but it gets frustrating to get really far only to have to shut the game down to do something else.

Single-Skin mode works similarly to Challenge. The difference here is that you can choose from one of your unlocked skins and stick with it until you decide to change it. Like Challenge, Single-Skin is not timed and can be played for as long as you can keep clearing blocks and doesn't come with Challenge mode's frustration factor if you have to stop playing. The trade off is that you're stuck with one skin, so you better make sure it's a good one.

Other single-player modes are also available for when you're not in the mood for a long game, or lacking in time. Time-attack also uses the same groundwork as Challenge and Single-Skin modes, only with a timer thrown in to really add some spice. The timer can be set to 60, 180, 300 or 600 second limits.

Rounding out the single-player modes is Puzzle, which is one of the more unique modes in the game since instead of trying to clear blocks, you're trying to build same-colored shapes. To further complicate things, you're also going up against a clock. This turned out to be my least favorite mode, even after I figured out what I was supposed to do (the instructions aren't the most informative).

Two-player VS. modes again use the same basic concept behind the game only with the twist that you're fighting for space to drop blocks. At the start of the match, the median is set directly in the middle of the playing field. Clearing blocks causes the median to drift towards your opponent, giving you more real estate to work with while your opponent has to deal with the now reduced playing field. Playing VS mode against the computer provides an additional way to unlock new skins.

As far as puzzle games go, Lumines is an enjoyable challenge. How far you get depends more on how well you can manage the blocks that are given to you than anything else. There's also a little luck involved. Similar to a game of chess, Lumines requires you to not only think one move ahead, but about three moves ahead. This concept takes some adjustment, but once you get the hang of it (which can take awhile), you'll find yourself stringing together those field-clearing combos needed to go far in the game.

Game Mechanics:
There's really not much behind the game's control scheme. The D-pad moves your blocks around the field, while pressing the face buttons rotates them. The X and Circle buttons rotate blocks to the right while the Triangle and Square buttons rotate to the left. Although it's tempting to just use one of the face buttons to rotate the blocks, it ends up taking more time. It's advisable to get used to using both rotation types in order to speed up building your combos. This also comes in real handy in situations where you don't have a lot of breathing room and need to lay down some matches in a hurry.

What looks like a simple puzzle game can easily become quite addictive if you give it a chance. When taken as a whole, Lumines is one of the unlikely stars of the PSP's launch lineup. Gameplay is addictive enough that you will be entertained for hours on end, but also provides some entertaining quick-play modes for when you want to play a short game. Even if you’re not a puzzle fan, Lumines is definitely worth a look; after that you’ll be hooked.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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