Q? Entertainment’s pedigree when it comes to the synthesis
of electronic music and lush aesthetic splendor is world-renowned. From Rez to Child
of Eden, Q?’s titles are, if nothing else, visually arresting and unique
experiences. Yet, among the developer’s numerous games, few have gripped gamers
like Lumines. It was the arguably strongest reason to pick up a PSP in the
handheld’s first year--and frankly, years later, it’s among the few games
anyone consistently revisited. It’s apropos, then, that after a cooling period,
the series returns with Lumines: Electronic Symphony, a sequel that recaptures the sensation, wonder, and
bliss of its predecessor.
Electronic Symphony advances the Lumines formula with some
clever riffs on the game’s well-established tropes. The core concept—stacking
similar-colored blocks and waiting for a sweeping laser to clear your progress
as a series of soundtracks and contrasting motifs blend in—is very much intact,
but the new gameplay elements make this feel like a sequel in the sense that
the 2006 numerical follow-up and copious reiterations weren’t.
With the addition of new block types, Electronic Symphony
challenges your idea of how the experience should roll out. Aside from blocks
that chain together one specific color, you’ll play with blocks that completely
switch the color back and forth. At surface level, it’s a fun dynamic that toys
with your idea of block placement, but in the later stages as the tempo ramps
up, it makes the difference between survival and starting over. And fortunately, if you fail, you won’t have
to start all the way at the beginning of the game to unlock more skins, which
rewards and respects your time investment more than in past iterations.
Also, in past game, your character selection was more about
personalizing yourself. In Electronic Symphony, your character also comes with
perks. They affect your progress with “get out of jail free cards” that give you
abilities such as switch blocks and pausing the time sweep. You’ll also be able
to use these talents as weapons in multiplayer. Again, these additions seem
minor, but ultimately transform the dynamics of how you approach Lumines’
We’ve seen some successful and less-than-successful attempts
to capitalize on the Vita’s hardware capabilities in this launch window, and
while some titles revel in the ability to showcase what the machine can do,
Electronic Symphony’s “less touch is more” approach works wonderfully. You can
tap the touch screen to rotate blocks, but it’s not a requirement. A quick tap
in the lower left corner will allow you to unleash your perks, and that’s
really all the game needs. You can get more hands-on, but the game doesn’t
demand it of you.
One can’t understate just how beautiful the game looks,
either. We’ve seen Lumines in HD on consoles, but the skins and art choices
accentuate the Vita exceptionally well. The shapes and background designs not
only showcase the high resolution screen, they also toy with your brain in ways
unseen in prior games, from depth perception to color palates. There's a standard that one expects from the games, and Electronic Symphony exceeds it.
And, of course, a Lumines game is equally defined by its
soundtrack as it is by its look. Q? has pulled out all of the stops for
Electronic Symphony. From classics like The Chemical Brothers’ “Hey Boy, Hey
Girl,” Aphex Twin’s “Windowlicker,” and Josh Wink’s “Higher State of
Consciousness” to contemporary dance music superstars like Kaskade, it
wonderfully melds beats and tempos to dazzling skins and shapes to create a
pacing to puzzle solving that ebbs and flows with the energy of a DJ mix,
complete with heat-ups and cooldowns.
Lumines has seen several iterations in the seven years
between PSP’s launch and PlayStation Vita’s debut, almost to the point of fatigue.
Yet, for the more pop-influenced variations and its omnipresence on multiple
platforms, the charm of its core mechanics always shone through. With Lumines:
Electronic Symphony, the series grows and expands in ways that render prior
games as more spin-offs than true sequels. It reinvents itself for a new medium
and showcases Sony’s new handheld, just as its predecessor managed in 2005. Mark our words: you will remember why you loved this game so much.