It’s very easy to lose yourself inside Lumines Electronic Symphony, your mind wandering into a tightly focused realm where colours, patterns, and sound move in unison.
Minutes can easily flick through to hours as you carefully line up the blocks to the sound of the strong playlist. Bus stops will be missed, train stations accidentally sat through, relationships put on hold.
Of course, this was also true of the original PSP version, too (or, indeed, any of the many ports the game received since its first release) and Electronic Symphony doesn’t do anything too outrageous to rock the block.
What it does do is subtly address certain issues from the past to create the definitive version of one of the best modern puzzle games around.
As with previous games, your task is to match up 2x2 or greater squares of the same colour by manoeuvring blocks that drop from the top of the screen. Unlike in Tetris, these blocks are always the same size, and always consist of just two colours.
Meanwhile, as you rotate and drop the blocks onto the playing area a ‘timeline’ bar sweeps across the screen horizontally from left to right in time with the music. Should it pass over a set of matched coloured blocks, it ‘marks’ them and then removes them from the playing area once it reaches the far right-hand side of the screen.
Big scores, therefore, are awarded for making multiple matches during one sweep of the timeline, while fancy players can time their drops so that only half of a matched colour is removed at one time (thanks to the timeline missing the other half).
They're playing our song
It sounds incredibly simple on paper, and that’s part of the reason the game succeeds. It’s very easy to pick up and play.
The difficulty comes in how the blocks and the timeline are linked to the music, with certain ‘skins’ (essentially levels) changing both the pace at which the blocks fall and the speed of the timeline.
Unlike Tetris, Lumines’s main mode (called Voyage) doesn’t simply get faster as you progress. Instead, much like a well-constructed album, certain skins will build up in pace (while lowering the timeline pace) before shifting back down a few gears to throw you off balance.
Each skin has its own unique look and feel that suits (for the most part) the song it's tied to.
The music this time around is a mixture of original tracks and licensed music from the likes of Aphex Twin, Faithless, Goldfrapp, and Underworld, which is exactly the sort of soundtrack we’d want to listen to and consistently higher quality than previous versions.
Even if you're not into that kind of music, you'll be mesmerised by the way in which the game takes the sounds and intertwines them with the gameplay, with every movement and high-scoring bonus adding layers of instrumentation or beats to the soundtrack.
After a few minutes with headphones on, it’s hard not to be sucked into the strangely hypnotic action, which is helped by the odd and surreal videos playing in the background of each skin and the layers of patterns forming on-screen.
Lost in music
In terms of differences between this and earlier versions, Electronic Symphony adds the shuffle block alongside everyone’s favourite board-clearer, the chain block.
Shuffle blocks do exactly what they say - shuffle up existing blocks - which adds a delightfully vicious twist for advanced players who know how to use chain blocks effectively. Alleviating this pain is the Avatar ability that can force a chain block to appear, thereby getting you out of a potentially game-ending jam.
Also worth noting is the new levelling system. In previous Lumines games, unlocking skins was confined to the versions of Voyage mode. In Lumines Electronic Symphony, matches in every mode now also contribute to unlocking the remaining skins and avatars - a welcome feature for newer players given how long Voyage mode is and how unforgiving those final skins are.
But, while improvements have been made to certain aspects of the game, other areas have gone walkabout. Electronic Symphony only comes with Voyage, Timed, and Master (five ultra-fast levels), which is a shame as the Puzzle mode from earlier versions was great for short bursts of play.
Also a little disappointing is the lack of online head-to-head play, with the mode consigned purely to ad-hoc play. The online leaderboards for each mode go some way to sate your appetite for competition, however - you shouldn’t underestimate the appeal of thrashing your PSN friends list.
And you shouldn’t underestimate this latest edition of Lumines. It may come across initially as the same game as the PSP launch title from all those years ago, but with the additional power block creating new problems for advanced players and the levelling system encouraging newer gamers, Lumines Electronic Symphony still puts on quite the show.