If you never got your hands on a PSP, you might not be entirely familiar with the Lumines franchise. Ubisoft released the original in 2005 as a launch title for the PlayStation Portable, but it splashed down with relatively little fanfare due mostly to the PSP’s meager player base. And, even though some puzzle gamers have a tendency to write the Lumines franchise off, it’s probably the only launch title that PSP owners are still playing. So, it seems entirely appropriate that Ubisoft and Q Entertainment would team up again to kick-start the PlayStation Vita.
Lumines Electronic Symphony follows the same basic formula as the 2005 edition, but Q Entertainment has spent the last seven years spit-shining the interface and ironing out a few gameplay issues. However, even with all of its shining moments and intuitive design decisions, Electronic Symphony has a several major sticking points that will definitely keep it from winning the Tetris Award For Puzzle Game Perfection (an award that I just made up).
If it’s your first time behind the wheel of a Lumines title, you’ll probably be surprised by just how much it resembles Tetris. But, trust me, after a few minutes the similarities will fade and the intricacies of Electronic Symphony’s control scheme will start to set in.
The gameplay is by no means complicated; an endless number of multi-colored blocks are fed through the top of the screen (à la Tetris). You are tasked with rotating these blocks and organizing them by the appropriate color. Once a 2-by-2 block of color has been constructed, it disappears, and players can move on to the next one.
However—and this is where it gets more intricate—the blocks don’t disappear right away. They’re removed by a vertical line that constantly shuffles across the screen. This “timeline” is what allows players to use a bit of strategy when wiping the blocks away. If you can stay a beat ahead of the timeline, you’ll be able to rack up combos and increase your score quickly.
The controls are almost as simple as the gameplay itself. In fact, if you’ve played Tetris, you’re almost already caught up. Block placement is commanded by the D-pad and rotation is controlled by the face buttons. Electronic Symphony could almost have just as easily been played on an SNES without any loss in style.
However, there are a few little quirks that the classic console’s gamepad wouldn’t have been able to handle. Power-ups, for example, are often gained by achieving combos or consistently racking up points. However, you can accumulate those precious power-ups more quickly by repeatedly tapping on the rear touch panel.
But here’s the deal; that’s the only element that successfully uses the Vita’s unique hardware. The developers have given players the option to rotate and place the blocks using the Vita’s touchscreen, but this option will probably only be used by self-destructive masochists. The touchscreen is not nearly sensitive enough to make decisions quickly. So, even as a novelty, it offers nothing but irritation.
Now, the key to mastering Electronic Symphony is buried deep in its musical subtitles. Sure, you could mute the volume and play a passable game, and this option makes it a perfect title for the casual player, but if you truly want to excel, you need to keep turning the volume up until the knob breaks off.
The game itself contains over 30 tracks from artists like The Chemical Brothers and LCD Soundsystem, and each stage has been specifically tailored to the intricacies of the track. When you finally level up, you’ll have to quickly acclimate yourself to the new environment. Not only does the level take on a new visual skin, but the timeline and blocks now travel at different speeds. Habituating to this changeover is guaranteed to wipe you out a few times.
However, you’re probably aware of this already, but if you’re not a fan of electronica, Lumines isn’t the franchise for you. And even if you are, you may want to take a break from time to time. The phrase “The future of the future will still contain the past” has been regrettably etched into my eardrums.
Now, I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but the Vita is practically made for online multiplayer gaming. I mean, it’s almost annoying the way that little console is constantly searching for an Internet connection or telling me what’s going on with my idiotic PSN friends. But, for some reason, Ubisoft thought it would be cool to release a launch title with no online multiplayer support.
Sure, I could convince a few of my friends to buy it and we could screw around in Ad Hoc mode, but this option feels a little tacked-on, considering how little it would have been played when compared to a genuine multiplayer mode. In fact, the lack of a true multiplayer feels almost insulting when you consider how many of the unlockable items are geared toward multiplayer. If I’m being honest with myself, I’ll probably never get to try most of the items I’ve unlocked, because so few people will ever let me trick them into playing Lumines for an extended period of time.
To add insult to injury, the multiplayer game mode is only playable when someone agrees to play against you. In previous versions, players have had the option to practice against an A.I. opponent, but in Electronic Symphony, even this is not possible. Needless to say, Lumines Electronic Symphony is probably not going to be the exciting new multiplayer game that all of your friends are talking about.
Like most Vita titles, Lumines Electronic Symphony is a bit pricey at $39.99. In fact, those of us who remember getting a complimentary copy of Tetris with our GameBoys feel doubly shafted. But if you dig electronic music and can ignore the neutered multiplayer, you might actually still be playing Lumines Electronic Symphony when the Vita’s successor comes along.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
The graphics are deceptively simple, but entirely appropriate. 4.5 Control
Simple and Intuitive. You already know how to play this game, trust me. 5.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
This is probably the best the Vita will ever sound. 3.5 Play Value
Without a solid multiplayer component, the title definitely suffers, but the rest of the game tries to make up for it. 4.3 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best