Lumines: Puzzle Fusion
Reviewed by Michelle Thurlow
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2005-08-15 PSP Puzzle E (Everyone) Q Entertainment / Ubisoft, Bandai

Let's face it: puzzle titles and portable gaming units go together like sugary cereal and Saturday morning cartoons. They're made for each other.

Nintendo successfully launched one of the world's most popular gaming platforms (the original Game Boy) with the help of a little puzzle gem entitled Tetris. Similarly, Sony hopes that Ubisoft's classy brainteaser Lumines (pronounced "luminous") will bring corresponding success to the newest kid on the handheld gaming system block: the PlayStation Portable.

Lumines has been getting some surprisingly good press recently, with many reviewers giving the addictive sanity-slayer full or near-perfect scores. Amazingly, it even has some former skeptics whispering that the PSP may have finally found its much-needed killer app. One day, I finally decided I needed to cut through all the hype and check out the title myself, so I went ahead and bought a copy of Lumines. And a PSP.

The first thing one notices about Lumines is how stylish it is, especially for a puzzle game. This game is definitely a looker and a perfectly chic "significant other" to Sony's dapper PSP. The hardcore gamer out there will recognize the influence of many other games on the style of Lumines, as the steel-colored menu interface and ambient techno background music will most obviously recall the futuristic environments and soundtrack of Psygnosis' racer Wipeout.

Director Tetsuya Mizuguchi's artistic touch is evident practically everywhere in this game. Mizuguchi-san's preference for platinum-and-orange color schemes and futuretro fashion influences the look of Lumines as it has his other projects (e.g. Space Channel 5). Like another Mizuguchi puzzle game, The Rez, Lumines evidences a style that hearkens back to the late seventies and early eighties when the shape of everything from eyeglasses to automobiles was boxy and square-like.

In a happy coincidence, the style of Lumines matches its gameplay perfectly, as the object of the game is to create boxes out of the "garbage" that falls onto the screen's play field. The more squares you create from the dual-colored blocks that descend from the top of the screen, the higher your score will be. You can also receive bonus points for clearing the entire play field or leaving behind blocks of only one color on the screen.

There is really only one power-up to speak of in the game that aids you on your mighty quest. If you form a square containing one of these special blocks, any adjacent blocks that are the same color as that of the square you created will be eliminated. Hopefully, you will then set off a chain reaction that will clear up the clutter on your play field significantly. As you can imagine, these special blocks are very welcome on the faster, more difficult levels.

Challenge mode is probably where you'll head to first in the game; it is here where you will unlock new graphics and background music (which they call skins) by simply surviving as many levels as you possibly can without topping out. However, be aware that in the so-called Single Skin option, you'll open up jack squat for skins and avatars even if you beat your highest point or level score.

Other one-player modes include Time Attack and Puzzle mode. Time Attack directs players to create as many on-screen boxes as they can before a pre-set time runs out. In Puzzle mode, players must construct different shapes using the garbage blocks the CPU tosses at the player. Successfully assembling these shapes will unlock new puzzles and skins.

Finally, Lumines' cool Versus option allows gamers to battle other human players using the PSP's fabulous built-in wireless feature. In this mode, the gamer in the lead's play field will increase, thereby creating a bottleneck for the opponent and forcing him or her to top out. Versus mode also allows players to tangle with the game's brutal CPU to open up more skins and character icons. Clearly, you're going to have to master every aspect of this game to unlock all the music and graphics options hidden therein.

So, do I agree with those who feel Lumines is the killer app for the PSP? Well, Lumines is a great game to be sure, but I'd stop short at advising anyone to run out to the store to buy a PSP just for this one title. However, if you already own and PSP or are 100% sure you're eventually going to buy one, I believe Lumines would make a trendy new addition to your burgeoning library of PSP games.