Every time I fire up a Lumines game and am not instantly greeted by the mellow beats of Mondo Grosso's "Shinin" from the franchise's 2004 PSP debut, I can't help but feel a little disappointed.
That song will forever be linked with the magical feeling of the first game, when Q Entertainment's simple and sublime marriage of block-matching puzzle game and electronic magic rose above a crop of more traditional game offerings to become one of the must-have PlayStation Portable launch titles.
So now I start up Lumines Electronic Symphony, a fresh Lumines game for the brand-new PS Vita. Deep Dish's "The Future of the Future (Stay Gold)" is no "Shinin", but then nothing ever can be. The best we can hope for is that the magic the song carried along with it remains intact.
It's Lumines: The music may change but the blocky song-and-dance remains the same, for the most part. It's still all about matching colored blocks so they form blocks in time to have the rhythm bar pass over them, clearing them from the screen. The more blocks, the better your score. It's one of those puzzle games that never gets hard; it just gets fast. Or it seems fast, when really it is sapping hours from your life at a time without you noticing.
Block-Dropping Beats: One thing I count on with every new version of Lumines I play; my MP3 player will feature several new additions by the time the game is over. Electronic Symphony contains 34 tracks' worth of machine-made music (mostly), covering the history of the electronic scene. Howard Jones, The Chemical Brothers, Benni Benassi; it's like the ultimate electronica mix coupled with a little gaming accompaniment.
Level Up!: As if unlocking new musical skins weren't enough, Electronic Symphony ups the ante with a score-based leveling system, complete with an unlock system that delivers new performance-enhancing avatars at regular intervals. Each avatar unlocks special powers that can be used in both single-player and multiplayer modes. One may cause the next three blocks to be single colors. Another might inject a shuffle block into the next set, the only time you'll be happy to see the little bastard. Nothing ridiculously powerful, but enough to squeeze your way through a tough spot or add a few extra points to your high score.
Worldwide Block Party: It may not have online multiplayer, but that doesn't mean Electronic Symphony leaves your more distant friends out of the equation. PlayStation Network friends that have played the game appear on the main menu, giving you a score to beat or fuel for gloating on demand.
There's also the World Block, a massive construct made up of cubes that are erased every time you or anyone else in the world plays the game. Even without interacting with these people whatsoever you can't help but feel connected when that giant block shrinks down to size.
It's Basically Lumines: There really isn't much meat on these bones when you're done chewing through single-player Voyage mode, time-attack stopwatch mode, and the block count-based Master mode. That seems rather sparse, especially considering the amount of content in say, Lumines Live for Xbox Live Arcade. I see downloadable content in this game's future, before players sneak off to play an older, more feature-rich version instead.
Touching Failure: There's no real reason to get touchy-feely with Lumines Electronic Symphony outside of menu navigation and activating power-ups. Beyond that there's the option to use touch screen controls to move and rotate blocks instead of the directional pad, which might be fun if you hate yourself. And then there's the tapping, which can't possibly be working as intended. Though who knows, someone did decide to add a shuffle block to the mix.
The Strategy-Killing Shuffle Block: When it comes right down to it, the conflict of Lumines is one of your hands and head against the game's speed. You build the board, setup screen-clearing combinations, and pray your fingers and mind can keep up. Then the new shuffle block drops, randomly rearranging everything on the board, ruining everything forever.
The only situation where this block is a good thing is when you've lost control and the board is filling faster than you can clear it. If you're lucky the random shuffling could free up a large portion of the screen. Or it could ruin everything, which I've gotten used to at this point. I hate you, shuffle block.
I was disappointed when I started up Lumines Electronic Symphony and wasn't greeted by the familiar sexy sparkle of "Shinin". Then I started playing and I wasn't so disappointed anymore. The song didn't make the game; it just helped shape the memory.
Here's to new memories.