The PlayStation Vita has been on store shelves for more than a month now, giving early adopters a fair chance to get to grips with the vast array of launch titles that were released alongside the console. While many of these games are great sources of portable entertainment, one stands proudly with the coveted title of ďmost played.Ē And itís not Motorstorm RC (although it comes bloody close). Itís Lumines: Electronic Symphony.
Want to know why? Tetris
is why. For decades, the humble portable puzzle game has been capturing the hearts and minds of gamers the world over. But only the best in this genre can have this compulsive effect - the ones that offer a simple premise and accessible control scheme, layered with devilishly addictive gameplay mechanics.
Q Entertainmentís Tetsuya Mizuguchi, a man whose credits include Rez
and Space Channel 5
, understands this formula and worked it to great effect in 2005 when the original Lumines
launched alongside the PlayStation Portable. Electronic Symphony
is the fourth sequel in the series, and the objective is as easy enough to understand as always - simply create 2x2 blocks (or larger) of same-coloured squares to make them disappear from the game grid, while trying to survive as long as possible without filling the grid.
The kicker here though, is that Lumines
is based on rhythm. A timeline passes through the grid and highlights blocks that are ripe for removal, making them disappear as the bar reaches the end of the game area. This allows players to time their block drops to gain massive chain combos. The more blocks that disappear in one pass, the more points you get.
Perhaps the most mesmerising thing about Lumines
is the sound direction, and the interactivity that it offers. A different sound sample plays when you press any of the face buttons, and almost everything you do adds a new dimension to the backing music that pumps throughout the Vitaís speakers (or your headphones, which is recommended).
The tracklist is a collection of well-known dance acts like Chemical Brothers, Mylo and Goldfrapp to Japanese artists like Ken Ishii. All of the tracks in Electronic Symphony
are essentially Ďlevelsí in their own right, with backgrounds, samples and even blocks changing to suit a songís unique flavour and feel.
Aside from the added graphical sparkle that comes from releasing on a new console, this version of Lumines
comes with a few new additions to the standard block-rotating gameplay. A Chain Block can make all adjacent blocks turn into the same colour for maximum combos, while a Shuffle Block completely randomises the colour of any block it touches. This can be a godsend when youíre nearing the top of the grid and are running out of options.
As well as the face buttons, control of the blocks can be gained by dragging your finger along the Vitaís front touch screen. Tapping the screen will rotate blocks. Itís a nice idea, but it can feel rather inaccurate. Better to use the buttons. Where the touch screen and rare touch pad does come in handy though, are the power ups that you can initiate using your chosen avatar.
Each avatar has a special power that can help you out in a pinch. Tapping the avatar in the corner of the screen will kick it into action - the effects range from preventing blocks from dropping, to giving you a Chain Block and other potential life-savers. Once used though, you have to recharge your abilitiy by tapping the rear touch pad constantly until your avatar reaches 100%.
The mode youíll spend the most time in is the main one, Voyage, which takes you on a continuous journey through a set playlist of dance tracks. If you fail, you can choose to start over or try again from the song that you failed at. Youíll sink into an almost trance-like state while playing, only broken on occasion by repeat plays that may wind you up. Thereís no real difficulty curve to speak of, you see - youíll be blazing through several tracks only to be stuck on one particular song for ages before kicking ass again. Sort of breaks the flow a bit.
There are a few other modes to be enjoyed in Electronic Symphony
- from a time attack mode to a stringent Master mode that tasks you with being perfect in your block placements, to an ad-hoc multiplayer duel mode. Sadly, thereís no online mode, but there is a rather clever idea in the World Block.
Essentially, the amount of blocks you clear in any mode throughout a given day gets logged and uploaded, to help destroy a menacing massive Borg-like super-block. In an approach similar to Noby Noby Boy
, all playersí cleared blocks are combined to wear down the daily World Block. Rewards are tied to an experience system, but besides the unlocking of new avatars and for e-peen purposes there isnít much benefit to levelling up.
Youíll come back to it though, just like I have, for one simple reason - the game is a joy to play in short intervals. Itís the perfect puzzle companion for anyone who has a PlayStation Vita, and every play of that Voyage mode will immerse you with its stunning presentation and inviting gameplay. Itíll make you forget about the fact youíre sitting on a crappy bus as well.
Mesmerising puzzle experience
World Block Mode a great concept
Excellent replay value in the Voyage mode alone
No real learning curve
No online multiplayer
XP system doesnít really benefit
SPOnG Score: 8/10