A Fresh Take on Classic Puzzling
Lumines can, and probably will, be related to modern tetris games if someone were to try to describe it on the spot: You're given pieces that will automatically fall from the top of the screen (after a couple of seconds of planning, which diminishes as the speed level increases) and your goal is to match groups of the same color which will then get cleared by the "timeline" a bar that passes across the playing field at regular intervals that relate to the current song (this is in part a rhythm game). It is a simple concept and it works. It works incredibly well.
The bulk of your time will be spent (if you're playing alone) on the Challenge Mode, testing your skills or unlocking new skins (new songs to play on in Single Skin Mode). As your score increases in Challenege Mode, the speed level goes up, akin to many puzzle games, and the skin will change. Each time you reach a new skin, you will have that one automatically added to your archive. Lumines' basic concept is one you can immediately learn and obsess over, but takes many hours to perfect and master, but once you do, it is one of the most gratifying gaming experiences out there. The other single player modes include a Puzzle Mode, where your objective is to clear every colored block from the stage within a certain time limit and after a little bit of fiddling, you should be able to breeze through this.
Finally, there's the two player battle mode, which you can play against the computer in a sort of Battle Challenege Mode, where you unlock new avatars for each computer you beat, as well as their skin that you play them on. This mode will undoubtably last you a good while as well because no matter how skilled you are at the challenge mode, the battle mode is an entirely different experience. It plays like a tug of war, where the playing field is divided equally in half. Your goal is to be the last one standing and you accomplish this by making more matches than your opponent each time the timeline passes. If you "win" the match, your avatar launches an "attack" and you take control of an extra column of the playing field (or grid, if you really want to be picky). The furthest you can push the field is such that your opponent only has four columns to work with of area, which amounts to two pieces side-by-side and is more often than not a deathblow. Now, to put it into perspective, this is all happening every second or so, because the rounds are decided by each timeline pass, which depends on the skin, but that can vary between multiple passes each second, or a single pass every few seconds. This all culminates to a fast paced, intense showdown of your block matching skill (which sounds completely lame, but it is a whole lot of fun).
Now, given this is a puzzle game, visuals are a significant second to gameplay, but I've got to talk about 'em anyways. The whole game revolves around skins, and skins set the theme for everything. Essentially, a skin is your choice (or, in the case of challenge mode, not your choice) background and accompanying music (which subsequently decides the timeline speed). Backgrounds range from unobtrusive, almost "zen-like" designs that will have equally flowing songs and movements to accompany them, to fast-paced, busy storms of colors all over the screen. Likewise, the pieces will match the theme of the skin, but generally speaking there are only a couple of piece styles, save a few skins that have "custom" ones. You'll either have bricks that are in contrasting colors and have an almost metallic, or gem-like quality to them; bricks that appear to look almost like legos, with the typical color arrangement being that of a yin-yang deal (the dot in the middle of each square is the color of the opposing color and vice versa); or rounded, figure-eight kind of pieces. The impact this has on gameplay is nonexistant, but if you're a repetition-cop, the pieces may visually appear "same-y" after just a few skins.
The soundtrack is great, and there's a good variety of songs to unlock, though you will probably be hearing a lot of techno in this first PSP release (which is admittedly understandable once you play the game). As well as the songs themselves, simply moving and rotating pieces, dashing them across the screen, making a match, or making a large combo all have their own sound clips that are from the song. For example, rotating a piece on the "Shake Your Body" skin (by Mondo Grosso) will be accompanied by a "Shake!" clip each time you rotate it. All of these little clips and chirps usually mesh with the song perfectly (even if your frantic moves aren't even remotely on-beat) and it all culminates to an enjoyable experience each time the skin changes, or you're just trying to set that new high score on every skin you've unlocked.
Lumines is one of those games you can keep coming back to, and if you've got a friend with it, there are the battle options that you will become acquainted with during the many hours you'll sink into this game unlocking things and setting high scores. It is a quintessential portable title that any PSP owner would do well to have on them for long or short trips alike.