I should love Lumines Remastered. It’s part block dropping puzzle game, part music rhythm game – both genre’s I usually enjoy a lot. The original Lumines release on PSP is considered one of the handheld’s greatest titles and the series has been held in high regard ever since, spread across the PS2, Xbox 360, Vita, PS3 and mobiles. I’m not new to the Lumines experience – I spent many a bus journey bopping along to the musical styling’s of Electric Symphony on the Vita and had a mild fling with Supernova in 2009 – so it’s odd then that, for a number reasons, I’ve just not “clicked” with Lumines Remastered. Despite its obvious quality and it being right in my wheelhouse I’ve not enjoyed it as much as other entries into the series. As a game critic, this feels like looking at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and saying “Yeah, it’s alright I guess”.
The probability is that if you’re into the block dropping puzzle genre, you’ll have played Lumines in some form over the years. For those that haven’t, Lumines is akin to Tetris in that the aim is to clear blocks to score points but with a more passive clearance mechanic and a plethora of differences which mean that below the surface, it’s a very different beast. Unlike Tetris, Lumines Remastered is played on a long horizontal grid rather than a vertical plane. Instead of tetromino’s, 2 x 2 blocks spawn in the top-middle of the grid and the idea is to drop them into the grid below to create blocks of 2 x 2 (or more) of the same colour. The game ends when you’ve no more space to place blocks and the next block passes the line at the top of the screen. Another integral difference to Tetris is that blocks of colour aren’t cleared automatically. A line scans across the screen, from left to right, in time with the beat of the music which clears any completed colour blocks as it goes. This adds incredible depth to the play, giving you time to place a number of blocks before they’re cleared.
Comparing Lumines to Tetris is something that’s done often but in reality, it’s vastly different game. Blocks fall into available space below them meaning there’s no gaps from historic mistakes taunting you to do better. Blocks can separate – drop a 2 x 2 block onto a stack of blocks only 1 x 2 high and half the block will separate and fall. Matching 2 x 2 blocks will clear even if they’re also part of another 2 x 2 block. The delayed clearance means you can drop 2, 3 or even 4 blocks in the time it takes the line to cross the screen so that you can clear vast swathes of the screen in one fell swoop. For long time Tetris players (or even lapsed Lumines players like myself), it’ll take time to adjust and retrain yourself to stop forming columns and rows and start forming but once all the subtleties are laid bare, the mesh of mechanics offer a challenging yet enjoyable experience.
The mainstay of Lumines Remastered is the returning Challenge mode. Here you play through 42 visual overlays called “Skins” which come with their own theme song, colour settings and chimes when you move your block while blocks you’ve already placed . This mode also cycles through 100 different difficulty settings, getting progressively more difficult as the tempo gradually increases and the line scans across the screen at a faster rate, restricting the number of combo’s you can achieve. Once you’ve completed all 100 levels of difficulty in Challenge mode, you unlock the new Endless mode which is exactly what it says on the tin. Skin after Skin after Skin with the aim of hitting high scores. There’s also the new Shuffle mode which does exactly what you’d expect – plays skins in a random order – and the Skin Edit mode which lets you pick 10 of your favourite Skins to play back to back. Lastly we have Time Attack which challenges you to clear as many blocks as possible in 60, 180 or 300 seconds.
Outside of the standard game play modes, Lumines Remastered also comes with a few additional challenges. The Mission and Puzzle modes give you target shapes to form or target to hit and pits you against the clock to complete them in time. These offer real tests of your understanding of the core mechanics of the game as you try to form the shape of a dog in blocks. You can also play in a VS mode against the CPU or against another player. In this multiplayer mode, completed blocks force a dividing line that starts in the centre of the screen towards your opponents side of the screen giving them less room to play in.
And so, to the rub. Firstly, the Skins and the music. There’s some absolute bangers in Lumines Remastered, starting with “Shinin’” which could easily become the sound track to your Summer (again) and continues with excellent ear worms like “Shake ya body” and “Mekong” – but not all of the tunes in this game have aged well. This is entirely my personal preference but there’s a number of songs in this game that I just didn’t like or had a “block movement chime” that just sounds out of place to my ear. What’s more, activating a “breakdown” of songs (when you activate a combo) becomes more difficult as the game goes on so when you’re currently on a Skin you’re not a fan of and you’re struggling to get going, you’re listening to the same 20-30 seconds of music over and over. This is compounded by the restrictive nature of the Challenge mode which means when you get a game over, you’ve got to start from scratch again and have to trudge through the songs you don’t like again to get to those you do. I also find some of the Skins quite distracting, especially in the VS mode against the CPU. When there’s vinyl disks flying across the bottom the foreground, they can be just distracting enough to put you off your stride and force you to eat a big fat L.
Secondly, Lumines Remastered is a real time sink. Everything you do in this game takes a heavy investment of time and concentration. Chasing high scores is fine but when it takes an hour to get through 9 of the 42 Skins only to come up short because of a silly mistake that spirals out of control, it’s gut wrenching to start again. Again, personal preference, but it feels like Lumines Remastered is missing a less competitive mode where you just sit down for 10 minutes and rattle through a load of Skins quickly for those times when you just want to have some fun instead of chasing high scores or targets.
For fans of the original Lumines, this will be a wonderful toe tap down memory lane. It’s everything that original game had with a few extra game modes in a neat package. A block dropping puzzle game with obvious quality and ingenious mechanics, this remaster has been created with respect for the original. It’ll be your personal taste and tolerance for the music you don’t like which will ultimately decide how much fun you have with Lumines Remastered. There’s a great variety of tracks but if, like me, you’re not overly enamoured with the lion’s share of them, the puzzle play struggles to compete with the rhythm game elements.
Lumines Remastered is available now on Xbox One, PS4 (review version), PC and Switch.
Publishers: Enhance Games
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we received a copy of the game from the publishers. Please see our review policy for more information.