While working for Sega, Tetsuya Mizuguchi made a couple of games that have often crossed over to the surreal. Titles like Space Channel 5 and Rez were traditional games in the sense that they played like normal games, but were completely affected by the performance of the user; the latter especially. So when Mizuguchi split from Sega and headed his own studio, who would've huess that he would deviate from his initial vision? Lumines is the first game from Q Entertainment (Meteos for the Nintendo DS being the next one), and as the subtitle says, the game is all about mixing together music and puzzle into a strange brew. Whether by fluke or just plain brilliance, the combination works very well.
Lumines' concept is very similar. Unlike other puzzle games, you only have to work with one shape - that being squares - and two different colours. By creating a solid coloured square, you'll make it disappear. But that's where all similarities to previous puzzle games end. Instead of blocks disappearing instantly, Lumines features a metronome bar that scrolls from left to right on the playing field. Once a block has been completed, you must wait until the metronome bar completely goes through the block before it is gone from sight. This plays an interesting role in the game, because you'll often have to revolve your game around the metronome bar. Complete a block too late and only part of the block will disappear. Do it too early while you're near death and you might not have enough time to allow for the next block to maneuver into position.
By aligning pieces into specific patterns, it's also possible to produce chain attacks, which will up your score significantly, and is the key to attaining a high score in the game (my personal best? 98,978 points). Along with the regular block pieces are Lumines pieces, which serve as a trump card of sorts. By completing a block with a Lumines present, you'll be able to eliminate any adjacent blocks, and anything else that is connected adjacently. This can lead to some absolutely huge scores, if properly executed. Unlike other puzzle games, Lumines doesn't get faster and faster the longer you play during Challenge mode. Instead, you'll get varying metronome speeds that are mixed in with rapidly increasing drop rates for the blocks. This can seriously throw your rhythm off later in the game, since when you go from one track to another, it's necessary to readjust for the increase or decrease of metronome speed.
Aside from Challenge Mode (which is essentially a single player mode that transitions between songs), there are two additional modes called Puzzle and Versus. Puzzle mode is a little tricky to figure out at first, but it becomes quite fun and enjoyable to play. With each puzzle, you're asked to perform certain tasks or create a shape (a dog, for example) in order to win. Versus mode is more traditional, but even that has a few new wrinkles in it. Instead of having each player utilizing their own screen, they share a standard single player mode field and commence an interesting game of tug-o-war for dominance. The more blocks and chains that you connect, the bigger your field gets, and the smaller your opponent's is. It's a fresh take on the whole "I'll make more blocks to dump crap on your screen" thing that's been too prevalent in puzzle games as of late.
The visuals and audio in Lumines definitely deserve more than a few words. Beginning with the soundtracks, most of the tunes you'll play to are made by Mondo Grosso or Eri Nobuchika, while other artists also contribute. For those who enjoyed Rez, you'll get a kick out of some of the awesome techno beats in Lumines, but there are some tunes here that simply defy explanation; you'd have to listen to them for yourself to really enjoy it. As in Rez, players are able to control the music by direct actions. Tapping a block into position will produce a sound effect, while sliding it across the field will produce another. Rotating the block also makes a different sound, as does completing a block. By simply playing the game, you can make some kickass music that even DJ Rob Javier couldn't come up with. Accompanying the slick music are graphics that change as the tracks change. The skin called Japanese Form features classic samurai images and fluttering sakura blossoms, while Dark Side Beside the River has some surreal videos that pump out during key points in the game. Both the graphics and the audio combine to produce an experience that's best with headphones equipped, and the lights dimmed.
While Lumines may not be able to stand up to other titles that have more market presence (such as Ridge Racers and Minna No Golf), those who are looking for some truly innovative and unique experiences will not have to look further than Lumines. Although there are already three other puzzle games on the market (Puyo Puyo Fever, Puzzle Bobble Pocket and Kollon) for the PSP, none of them stand up to what Mizuguchi has conjured up with Lumines. Do yourself a favour and get this game immediately!