Lumines II (PSP) – Review

Lumines II - CoverWith the success of Lumines as a launch title for the PSP last year, it was no surpise to see a follow up to the game, though surprisingly with the game out for XBox Live and soon for the PS3, it may seem a bit much Lumines overkill. Particularly with the fact that the core gameplay hasn’t changed, the only direction that Lumines can be taken is to add more “skins” and visual improves to the game. For the most part, that’s what Lumines II, developed by Q? Entertainment and distributed by Buena Vista Games, for the PSP offers; old skins have been included and redone, but the game features a lot more skins as well as licensed music from a variety of modern artists. Unfortunately, while the core game is still good, it doesn’t have the freshness that the first game had, and the inclusion of sort artists, over others, feels more like a way to push the music as opposed to selecting the best music for the game.

Gameplay: A-

As noted, Lumines II doesn’t change the core game from Lumines. Tetris-like in nature, your job is to make 2×2 squares of tiles of all of one of two colors as they fall in randomly created 2×2 blocks. Squares can overlap, and which leads to large bonus points, and special tiles can remove a continuous section of blocks of the same color when it is matched in a square. The key aspect to the game is that squares aren’t removed until a timeline passes over the field, the speed which changes with the current “skin”; faster timelines make it hard to make large combos but help to clear the field faster, while slow timelines can be used to set up high scoring combos but may also lead to trouble as pieces don’t disappear as fast as desired. If the pieces get to the top of the screen, you lose. Like before, the game has several ‘skins’ which is a combination of block styles, backgrounds, and music that change the rate at which the timeline moves, blocks drop, and the how easy it is to make out the differences between the two colors. Every so often, the skin will change (generally after clearing a fixed number of blocks), and thus you also have to consider the transitions between skins (a fast skin followed by a slow skin can be quite devastating) and the jarring impact they can have on your game.

Lumines II - Gameplay with a music video skinAll of the skins from Lumines have been brought into the sequel with several visual upgrades, making the tiles feel less fuzzy or more graphically appeasing. Several new skins (some already seen in the XBox Live version) also make their presence. There’s also now the concept of video skins – these take licensed music from modern groups like The Chemical Brothers, Beck, and Fatboy Slim, and have the video playing in the background while you are playing in the foreground. The videos are slightly washed out as to not be too distracting to play, but I believe that this is part of the ‘difficulty’ in these skins as to concentrate on the main play while they occur. Unfortunately, only a couple of videos seem to be appropriate; The Chemical Brothers’ “Star Guitar” video, directed by Michel Gondry, is one that is already highly synchronized to the music, while “Black Tambourine” by Beck, which using a various of typewriter-generated animated ASCII art, has animated black and white tiles that cycle through typewritten characters to go along with the video. However, the other videos are mainly ones that show off the artist performing and thus are less connected to the music and skins than the homemade skins. Furthermore, these skins generally require you to play all the way through until the song is complete, as opposed to when a certain number of squares have been removed. While none of these skins are too fast or slow, it’s very noticeable that you get stuck on these video skins for a long time, and I really don’t seem them as being a great addition to the game.  (You can now also see these video skins through downloadable content on Lumines Live for the 360.)

Value/Replayability: A

Lumines II - Multiplayer shotHowever, in the general presentation of play, the game presents several more options for the player. Single play mode offers 3 different ‘courses’ of 20 skins each, which include the original 20 skins and about 15 video skins, such that there’s at least 60 skins available. These skins are grouped into 3 difficulty levels, as well as a special uber-route skin that features all skins in one long course. As with the XBox Live version, once you’ve unlocked a skin, you can now create your own skin courses, either with a single pass or with multiple passes, and also share these with friends via ad hoc connections. Time attack mode remains the same, as well as puzzle mode, though a new mission mode, whereby you try to clear the board with specific pieces or achieve a specific goal within the time allotted, helps with learning some of the strategy for high scores and saving oneself in tight situations. There is also now a sequencer in the game that lets you create your own music from 4 different ‘banks’ of musical cues, and then set those to your own skin, with up to 4 different songs that you can set. (These can also be traded with other PSP friends).

VS-mode remains the same (playing on a split field between either the CPU or an ad-hoc connected friend), but with the addition of more new skins as well. Unfortunately, you can’t set a specific course for these skins in CPU mode.

Beyond the basics, you can also share a demo of the game with another PSP, and a trial for another Q? game, Every Extend Extra, is also on the disk.

Graphics: A

As noted the graphics are definitely a step above the original game. Lumines II uses similar cues for when you hit bonus multipliers (granted by clearing out a large number of blocks during a single sweep) ,so you have a better handle on when you need to hit matches to get your score up. Many of the skins feature animated blocks, some which are simple pulsing or flashing without too much distraction, while others can make the skin much more difficult. All the graphics feel crisper and make it easier to follow on the eyes, but this may be due to adding more depth perception to the edges.

Sound: B+

Sound is very good, beyond the inclusion of some licensed music that doesn’t seem to fit the staple for music that Lumines works towards.

Overall: A-

For the most part, there’s more value in Lumines II than the original, with a lot more skins to try to work through and the like. It still makes for a great game to have in the PSP for quick sessions (not to complete a skin but just to play through when you have a few minutes waiting). However, I will say that with having Lumines Live for the XBox now available, I feel that the unique value of the gameplay isn’t there as it was when the first game came out. I don’t blame them for not changing the gameplay as it was well balanced from the start, but while new skins are cool additions, I don’t have the same maniacal urge to play the game as much as I did when I first got the PSP and Lumines.

Lumines II adds more to it’s predecessor in terms of new skins, music, and ways to interact with the game, without touching the significant part of the core gameplay. However, video skins are a hit or miss addition, and with at least 3 Lumines titles across the various game systems being released about the same time, there’s just a bit too much Lumines overload right now. However, it’s still a good game at it’s core and is a good puzzle/action game to keep around.

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