Could this be the best handheld puzzle game ever? No. It could very well be the best puzzle game of all time.
Here's a currently crappy situation. The PSP is set to make a huge impact on American soil this spring, and its best game in Japan isn't part of the lineup! Now I've played lots of PSP games, from Coded Arms to Twisted Metal, Wipeout to Ape Escape, and none of them hold a candle to Bandai's Lumines. Tetsuya Mizuguchi's (Rez, Space Channel 5) latest title is a masterpiece that not only shines on the PSP, but threatens to evict Tetris as being the ultimate king of puzzlers.
Great puzzle games are built around the simplest of concepts, and such is the case with Lumines. In its simplest form, the goal is to eliminate blocks by grouping colors together, but it's so much more than that. To just sit there and mindlessly cobble blocks together means you're missing the point, or at the very least don't have the volume jacked up. You see, Lumines is about groovin' to the music as much as it is about testing your geometry skills.
So here's how it works. Stretched across the PSP's drool-inducing screen is a grid, and blocks (which are composed of four mini blocks) fall from the top of it. Each board/grid has blocks with two colors, so you should, for example, group all orange together or all silver, and while you're doing this the game's pumping out this really fantastic music. Most of the soundtrack is this super hot techno that really gets the blood pumping, in particular the opening song by Mondo Grosso that is simply one of the greatest opening themes ever heard in a videogame.
Anyway, the block elimination and the music fuses together because every time you move blocks around and make them disappear they produce sounds that actually enhances the music, and the more blocks you obliterate the better the music becomes, so it's not just about grouping four wimpy squares together but doing so in style as well as in large numbers. Some blocks have tiny green dots inside them that, when linked to other colors, can eliminate half the board, which in turn produces a trippy musical treat. Lastly, to make things even trippier, the backgrounds are always moving. Videos play, lights pulse, and other bizarre things happen, which more often than not distract you, but it's all good. Over time you'll get used to what the game throws at you.
Lumines features well over twenty skins, and each one has a respective song, so there's a lot of variety. Plus, it's not exactly an easy puzzle game. Blocks pile up quick and, like Tetris, once they reach the top it's game over. But that also gives Lumines added replay value, because you'll need to keep beating skins to unlock them, and there's a huge desire to see what the next song will be.
In addition to the single player mode, two players can battle one another via the PSP wireless capabilities. The screen is divided in half, with the goal being to destroy more blocks than your opponent. As you do this your side of the screen will get bigger and eventually smoosh your foe. Battles can end in seconds, but it's always best when two players of similar skill levels butt heads because the line will continuously travel back and forth.
As far as I'm concerned, Tetris has been on the top of the puzzle game mountain for far too long. Therefore, from hereon in, I proclaim Lumines as the new king of the puzzle game genre! There, I said it. Better than Tetris... hell, better than any puzzle game on the market, Lumines is the must buy PSP title, as long as it makes it to these shores! Here's hoping Bandai wises up and gives Lumines the exposure it deserves. To not play, and therefore love, this game is a virtual crime.