When you’re gaming on the go, you don’t necessarily have an hour to sink into a game. That’s why any handheld worth its salt has to have at least one killer puzzle game, something that you can play for fifteen minutes as you’re stuck in the dentist’s waiting room or on the bus ride home.
Lumines Electronic Symphony is absolutely terrible for that, however, because once you start you’re not going to want to stop after just fifteen minutes. Or ninety.
In a few short years since its debut at the PSP’s launch, Lumines has pretty much taken the puzzle genre by storm. This is thanks in no small part to the simple yet highly rewarding gameplay. 2×2 blocks comprised of two colors fall from the top of the screen, and you’re tasked with aligning them in such a way that you create like-colored squares, and these squares can swell to rather large sizes as you skillfully rotate and place more blocks. The squares you create aren’t removed instantly, though — a “time line” sweeps across the screen from left to right in tandem with the game’s music, and only until then is the screen cleared of your squares. The more squares that get swept up, the bigger your bonus. The game is over when blocks reach the top of the screen.
It’s slightly reminiscent of Tetris, which is already high praise, but the gameplay stands well enough on its own. For starters, there are never any unruly gaps in a stack of blocks; if one half of a block catches an edge somewhere, the other half will simply continue to fall until it reaches ground. There are also special chain blocks that occasionally come down, randomly assigned to one of the two colors. Touching it to another block of that will remove all of the adjacent blocks of that color (so long as they’re not connected diagonally). This can potentially create enormous combos as blocks of the other color fall on each other into removable squares.
New to Electronic Symphony are also shuffle blocks, which randomly changes the colors in any cluster of blocks it comes in contact with. This may be a blessing that helps remove blocks when you’re dangerously close to losing, or a curse that kills all of the squares and combos that you were working towards. The game also introduces avatars with rechargeable abilities, namely creating chain and shuffle blocks on command.
All of the action takes place across different skins, 43 in all. Each skin changes the look of the blocks and is attached to one of 34 different licensed songs, many from well-known artists such as The Chemical Brothers and LCD Soundsystem. In conjunction with the simple and addictive gameplay, the look and sounds of Electronic Symphony are what really pushes it over the top, and building combos becomes a truly mesmerizing experience.
You can play through these skins any number of ways. There’s Voyage mode, featured most prominently on the main menu. Here you’re tasked with surviving through as many of the game’s skins as you can, unlocking the ones that survive. This is easily the most addictive mode, as you constantly try to best your score and enjoy the expertly-sequenced skins. There’s also a Playlist mode, which lets you set any number of the skins you’ve unlocked to play through as you please. Master is an expert-level mode that removes avatar abilities and ramps up the speed dramatically, challenging you to make it through five daunting zones. Stopwatch is a race against time to see how many blocks you can clear in a short period of time (between 30 seconds and five minutes), and Duel pits you against a friend in ad-hoc multiplayer to see who can push the other off-screen with their combos. Whatever your mood and skill level, there’s a mode that suits it.