Lumines Plus Review
What begins on the PSP very often can end up on the PS2 - just ask Rockstar - and if it's a great game on one platform, it stands to reason it could be a great game on the other. Of course, due to the inherent limitations of the handheld, when a game like Lumines heads to the PS2, one should probably expect the absolute best version of the game. It may not have that super-cool wireless ad-hoc multiplayer, but logically speaking, the extra capabilities offered by the home console should make Lumines Plus a standout title in the new franchise. After all, the original was certainly a standout title when it was first released back in 2005 for the PSP, and after a couple years of refinement, our expectations were high for this one.
As a puzzler, we don't expect God of War-like visuals from Lumines Plus, but we would've liked to have seen at least some improvement from the games on the PSP. That ultra-sleek screen on the PSP probably helped a lot, but how come they didn't take advantage of the PS2? For example, they could've at least filled up the screen with the puzzle grid...it's like the developers forgot which platform they were making the game for. The rest of the presentation seems somewhat bland as well, what with the dull, gray menu screens and the less-than-flashy gameplay graphics. This is one example of a game shining on the PSP but failing to make a promising upgrade when converting to the more powerful system. The good news is that, considering the nature of this game, the graphics aren't paramount. Just like with Tetris, it's all about the gameplay.
But let's not forget the sound. While the graphics may not be downright crucial to the overall quality of the game, the sound can help a great deal with any puzzler, and Lumines has had some of the best effects and tracks to ever appear in the genre. This one is no different - even though many of the tracks are simply recycled from the PSP version - and they really help to bring the player into the block-dropping action. The different skins available will let you in on different tracks, and they're all upbeat and very stylish...we just hope you're a fan of Japanese rock and pop. The gameplay sound effects might be basic, but they're also very sharp and sophisticated. There isn't quite as much variety as you might think, but all in all, the sound is quite possibly the best aspect of Lumines Plus. We've never actually said, "this has some sweet sound!" in regards to a puzzler, but hey, there's a first time for everything.
Puzzle games are fun, addictive, and even mesmerizing if done correctly. The concept in Lumines is similar to that of Tetris, except you're dropping the same structure every time. It's always a set of four little blocks assembled in a square shape, and any one of those four blocks is one of two colors (white or red). Your job is to drop the blocks so four individual pieces come together to make one full square of the same color, which will subsequently disappear. It seems like a very simple premise, but once you get going, you'll realize just how strategic things can get. Also, you have to factor in a couple nifty tweaks: one being that the pieces will always slide down to fill in gaps rather than staying a solid block. In other words, if there are two spaces down to the right of two blocks and you drop half the block to the left, the two pieces on the right will slide down into those two open spaces. The other involves the "wild card" blocks that can be used as either color.
We just finished telling you all about the gameplay. That's all there is. But until you play it, you really have no idea how addictive the idea can be. Furthermore, Lumines Plus also features more than a few gameplay modes that can keep you playing for hours, and while your goal usually remains the same, it's not always the same. For instance, there's the Puzzle Mode - no, that's not the regular default mode - where you must create a certain shape with alternating blocks of color (like a small cross). This is easily the most challenging of any mode, simply because you have to use alternating color blocks in your construction. But once you get going, it's bound to be one of the more appealing modes. Just don't get caught up with any one mode, because you'll fail to get the full Lumines experience. However, we had hoped for a slightly "fuller" experience...
The thing is, while you do have plenty of modes, it still feels remarkably basic. As we said about the graphics, they just didn't expand on the original formula as much as one would hope, which means that Lumines Plus feels like...well, a PSP game on the PS2 without any of the expected added frills. On the other hand, it's not like the PSP game was lacking in the first place, so we can't call this a major complaint. After all, once this game gets its hooks into you, it might be painful to wrench yourself free. If you're not careful, you can lose an entire afternoon to a good puzzler, and thankfully, that's one quality that made a faithful leap to the PS2. Sure, the control still seems a little sensitive with the directional pad - those blocks can drop in a flash if you're too heavy-fingered - but then again, that's not much different than it was on the PSP.
There are four Time Trials where you just have to nail down as many blocks as possible in the allotted time, a mode where you tackle the computer, the requisite Versus mode, a regular one-player mode where you attempt to beat your own score, and the aforementioned Puzzle mode. The more you play, the better you'll get at stringing together combos; it's massively satisfying to trigger a huge combination after setting up the grid correctly and getting just the right block at just the right time. Yeah, it's kinda tricky, but then again, the concept and control is easy enough. If you can't gain a handle on the rules, you're not fit to chew your own food, so without these added complexities, you've got a very bare-bones experience.
Unfortunately, the game does end up feeling underwhelming due to the mysterious lack of style that made the PSP games so darn fun. We can't really put our finger on any one thing, but it's probably the general feeling that the game just doesn't deliver the same level of entertainment. Perhaps it was the fresh originality of the first game on the PSP that makes this one feel uninspired, or perhaps it's the comparison we're forced to draw to other PS2 games, rather than other PSP games. And we simply can't get past one undeniable fact: given the opportunities afforded them on the PS2, there was any number of things they could've done with Lumines Plus to make it feel more like a "plus" and less like a "=," in regards to the PSP versions. On the other hand, we must reiterate that, at its core, this game remains a truly fine puzzler. If you've never before had the chance to play it, and you love a good, simple, and wildly addictive challenge, than this game is for you. And besides, it's always mad fun with a friend.
But for those of you who own a PSP and a copy of Lumines II, we really can't see any reason for you to pick up Lumines Plus. There just isn't enough extra to matter.
3/20/2007 Ben Dutka