Is there anything more wonderful in gaming than those rare moments where hardware and software come together in perfect unison? Call it synergy, if you must, but really it’s some fantastical alchemy at work where both parts help elevate each other, until you’ve got something truly special. Back in 2004, Q Entertainment and producer Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s Lumines offered up one of those moments, arriving in tandem with the PSP and becoming an unexpected highlight of the handheld’s launch line-up.
Perhaps it shouldn’t have been that much of a surprise. The PSP was billed as nothing less than Sony’s attempt to do for portable gaming what the Walkman had done for portable music players, though that message got lost in a muddy mob of ill-advised attempts to get big console gaming on the go. Mizuguchi got it, though, and set about creating something in tune with that ideal: a puzzle game for the MTV generation, complete with pulsating pop art visuals and its own impeccable sense of style.
Lumines was to be to the PSP what Tetris was to the Game Boy, or at least that’s how the theory went. And at least that’s how it played out in my house, where an import PSP left wanting for new games in the fallow first few months for the handheld became, quite simply, the Lumines machine. Other great games eventually came along to the PSP, of course, but an indelible connection had already been made; that glorious 16:9 TFT LCD screen was always meant to be paired with a decent set of headphones for a serious Lumines session.
This, surely, is how Lumines should be played, and where its dangerously compelling, crystal clear concept was always at its most potent. You’ve no doubt played Lumines at some point over the years, in one of its many follow-ups, ports or in the superb Vita sequel Electronic Symphony, but none of them have ever really bettered the original, and the formula has remained mostly unaltered ever since; you’re sorting 2×2 blocks as they drop them above, arranging them to make cubes of the same colour and working in harmony with a sweeping timeline that lends your puzzling a rhythmic backbone. Levels come in the form of ‘skins’, different music tracks that change up the BPM as well as the audiovisual effects that accompany your every move.
It’s simple but perfectly intoxicating, a little of that synaesthetic magic from Mizuguchi’s earlier Rez acquitting itself well in the puzzle genre. All these years later, it’s safe to say that Lumines is up there with Tetris, Threes and Drop 7 as one of the very best puzzle games around, a pure machine for playing, delivered through the pulsing prism of Mizuguchi’s vision. It’s as sensational now as it was back in 2004.
Even more so thanks to Lumines Remastered. This is the PSP original lent a little extra polish – and support for 4K on PC, Xbox One X and PS4 Pro – plus a light sprinkling of new features. There’s Lumines 2’s Mission Mode, sitting alongside a slightly streamlined Time Attack mode and a significantly bolstered Puzzle Mode, plus the ability to play along to a selection of favourite tracks in Skin Edit, another mode first introduced in Lumines’ sequel.
Which is all well and good, but all you really need to know is this: the original Challenge mode is present and correct, as is Mondo Grosso’s epic opening track Shinin’, an effervescent introduction to the long journey that is a Lumines session. All these years later, there’s something startlingly moving about going back to where it all began, and where it begins once again in Lumines Remastered. Playing through Shinin’ here has something of the emotional sweep of being whisked back to a favourite summer gone by a song you haven’t heard in too long.
It’s helped by some of the new tricks Lumines has picked up along the way. The Switch benefits from HD rumble, which can be applied to up to eight different JoyCon controllers and positioned – at your discretion – around your body. It’s a throwback to the Trance Vibrator that infamously accompanied the PlayStation 2 release of Mizuguchi’s Rez, of course, but also an approximation of the Synaesthesia Suit that only a lucky few ever got to try out when Rez Infinite was revealed, a full-body wonder that sent players on an MDMA rush without running the risk of the subsequent comedown. On Switch, Lumines Remastered is every bit as euphoric, the immersion that’s unique to handhelds ensuring that this version is every bit as well matched to its hardware as the PSP original. Indeed, just as it was with Rez Infinite when it came to PlayStation VR, this feels like Lumines has found its perfect home on Switch.
Is Lumines the perfect game? Not quite, and this port does have its problems, with slowdown blighting the performance on Switch in handheld mode at certain points. There’s also some of the lingering problems, addressed to various degrees in subsequent Lumines games, that remain in this remaster of the original. It’s savagely time hungry, Challenge mode runs often becoming a feat of endurance more than anything else once you’re half-decent at the game.
Do such issues detract from it? Not really – you’ll be familiar enough with them if you’ve played before, though they’re worth considering them if this is your first time. Still, this is the rare game that excuses itself for taking whole hours out of your life, and it gives you more than a little in return. A lasting smile, a song soaring in your heart and blocks falling from the heavens everytime you shut your eyes. 14 years on, Lumines is as potent a puzzler as it’s ever been, and in this it’s as close to perfection as it’s ever been.