Developer: Q Entertainment
Publisher: Bandai
Release Date: Out Now (Japan)
Players: 1-2
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Handhelds always seem to get a lot of puzzle games to accompany their launch; the original Gameboy probably wouldnít have sold nearly as well if it wasnít for Tetris, and while there may be lots of puzzle games around these days, good puzzle games are few and usually far between. However, with the launch of two great handhelds right next to each other weíve been very lucky. Thereís been Mr. Driller DS, which is a fantastic title, and now Lumines on the PSP, which manages to be even better.

The standard gameplay in Lumines is pretty basic; groups of four blocks made up of two different colours drop down from the top of the screen, and making groups of four or more of the same colour will cause them to join up and glow. In each level there is a bar continually going from left to right across the screen (the timeline). When this passes over the glowing blocks, it clears them. This lets you set up combos if you keep adding blocks before the timeline clears them all. There are also special blocks which have a jewel on them; when these are in a group of four, any blocks of the same colour linked to them will also glow and be cleared. This can get rid of huge amounts of blocks in a very short period of time. You will also receive bonuses for clearing all of one colour of block, or clearing the screen entirely.

Seeing as this game is from the creative genius behind Rez, music just had to be involved in how the game plays. In the regular gameplay mode, you work through 24 different ďskins,Ē each having their own music track, sound effects, and look. In addition to how the skins look and sound differently, they play differently too; the speed at which blocks fall down, and the speed at which the timeline moves across the screen is different for each one. Some of the skins do share the same block colours, but whatís going on in the background is different.

As you complete each one, they are unlocked to play in ďsingle skinĒ mode. Once youíve completed all 24 skins, you start at the beginning again, but everything is sped up quite considerably compared to your first time through.

In single player, youíve also got four timed modes. You can pick a 60 second, 2 minute, 5 minute, or 10 minute game. If your score is high enough in these, you will unlock an extra character for each one.

There are two other ways to play the game; thereís VS mode, which pits you against either a friend via WiFi, or a computer opponent. These have their own skins and characters to unlock, and play slightly differently to the normal mode of play. While the basic mechanics are the same, there is a bar down the middle of the game area, and as you or your opponents rack up points, it is pushed and pulled between you; your aim is to push it close enough to your opponent so that they run out of space and hit the top of the screen.

The other mode is ďPuzzleĒ mode, which sees you trying to create a certain shape with the blocks before the time runs out. This sounds easy, but you have to get it so that youíre not clearing blocks away when you donít want to, which can wreck what you were trying to do. Again, this mode will also unlock some more content.

The only real complaint I have about the game is its load times. It probably takes close to a minute to actually get into a game from turning on the system, but once youíre into it, thereís not really any loading to speak of (you will have a few seconds of silence between tracks sometimes, but you keep on playing).

A couple of the skins (particularly in the VS mode) seem to have been designed to make it harder to see what youíre doing, and a few others have, in my opinion, an annoying soundtrack/effects combination, but thatís just down to personal taste.

There is a minor bug in the Japanese version; if you have put the system to sleep, you will get an error when you get back to the main menu. All you have to do is hit X then O for it to try and save again, but itís all too easy to hit circle by mistake and lose your new high score (Iíve managed to do this a few times). I would assume this has been sorted for the US release.

Aside from these very minor issues, the game is pretty much flawless, and itís insanely addictive. To give you an example of just how addictive it is, I booted up the game earlier to check a fact for this review, and ended up playing it for well over an hour before I noticed the time...

I hate to give a game ten out of ten, especially a launch title, but I have to say that in my opinion, this is the best puzzler ever. Iím sad to say that it probably wonít sell all that well, as itís just not the kind of game most people buy these days. It should be the new Tetris; the one game on the PSP thatís a must buy for everyone, but I just donít see it happening. Please prove me wrong.

Best Bits

- Great soundtrack.
- Extremely addictive gameplay.
- Surprising amount of variation.
Worst Bits

- A couple of skins (out of almost 40) are hard to see and have annoying sound effects.

by: Andrew Fee

Copyright © Gamecell 2004