Humans love blocks. It might not be something everyone realises, but we do… think about it. What are some of the most popular games of all time? Pong… moving blocks. Tetris…falling blocks. Breakout… move a block to remove other blocks. The list goes on.
Since gaming began millions of hours have been lost to block based gameplay and probably none more than on Tetris for the original Gameboy. Generations of gamers grew up with that and its popularity proved that the genre and portable gaming were ideally matched.
Enter Electronic Symphony, the latest in the Lumines franchise, which brings falling block based gameplay to Sony’s new handheld, the PS Vita. This isn’t just a Tetris clone though; the developers have taken the basic concept and expanded it massively. Today we find out if they have managed to keep the same addictive style of play while bringing something new and fresh to the genre.
At its core Lumines has a very similar style of gameplay to Tetris, blocks fall from the top of the screen and can be increased in speed, moved side to side (dpad) as well as rotated (right thumb buttons) as they fall. Each has a set of colours or pattern and we try to arrange them in a way which creates large blocks of colour (or matching patterns). When we successfully do so, or place a special block, the matched areas disappear, our score increases and the game continues.
In Lumines the main interface also gives a preview of the upcoming blocks so that we may plan a few moves in advance and on the right of the screen we get a clear %, time played and score. Then at the bottom left we have our avatar which can be changed as we collect more and each has an ability, for example changing the type of block which will appear next.
Where things take a little twist from the norm is in the use of scores. Rather than constantly increase or reset and move from level to level we play until the game is over (blocks reach the top) and following this are given the option of saving our score or continuing on from the same level but not both. The answer then counts towards our level and XP in various ways. Further enhancing the gameplay we then have the usual Vita trophies/achievements which are awarded along the way.
Elsewhere in the game menu’s we find alternate play modes which include Master (progressively hard levels), Time Select where we must play against the clock for a high score and duel which see’s us compete against another player. In this mode our avatar also plays a part as the ability it has will be tailored to attack the other player, for example changing their blocks.
Finally we have playlist and world block mode. In playlist we can tailor the game style/audio to our liking and world block has us combine our stats with those around the world to complete the daily challenge of clearing a huge, fixed amount of squares for XP rewards.
Graphics and Audio
Given the genre that this title falls into and the gameplay style it uses the options for graphics effects are somewhat limited. This means that the developers need to work towards goals other than photorealism and impressive action packed scenes. Instead they need to keep the player interested while not overcomplicating the experience or creating headache inducing visuals. For the most part that balance is achieved in Lumines and while there are a few levels which are over the top the rest remain clear and easy to view.
The audio experience in Lumines was designed to be a core aspect of the game, one which integrates with the gameplay and moves the player along through the experience. This means that we get a wide range of songs (over 30) from established artists with varying BPM along the way. That said the style is predominantly electronic/dance with acts such as Underworld, The Chemical Brothers, Aphex Twin and Orbital all making an appearance.
Looking first at the main gameplay in Lumines Electronic Symphony we have a game which is easy to pick up and play, ideal for those who commute. It is also a game which can be played over a longer period thanks to the decision the developers have made in terms of accepting our score or sticking with the level we are on should the blocks hit the top.
It is also a very addictive game and capable of sucking up minutes and hours very quickly in the quest to progress, unlock and achieve higher XP and scores. Backing up the main gameplay are some decent additional modes which offer extra challenge (Master) competitive play (Dual) and quick-fire timed play for those who have little time.
In terms of Vita specific content the main aspect here is the ability to play using the touchscreen to move and rotate blocks or fire off our avatar ability. We found that the dpad/button method was the most accurate and easy to use however.
On the graphics front there is little to fault in the latest Lumines title, most of the time they are simple and functional while being colourful and vibrant but there are levels which look fantastic too. Audio on the other hand will split opinion as there is no doubt the gameplay is universally appealing but electronic/dance music is not. We are all for developers trying to bring a good music experience into their gameplay but should that be attempted a few different audio styles should be provided.
Minor issues with touch controls and soundtrack aside when it comes down to it Lumines Electronic Symphony is simple, addictive and challenging. Ideal for a game on a portable system.