Lumines (Preview)

Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s recent videogame productions have carved out a small but dedicated fanbase. First coming to prominence at SEGA as producer of the SEGA Rally franchise, Mizuguchi’s last efforts before leaving the company were the eye-catching Space Channel 5 and the mind-tripping Rez. Mizuguchi left SEGA after his resource and development division, United Game Artists, was merged and he’s since formed a new company, Q Entertainment. In interviews since his departure from SEGA, Mizuguchi stated his desire to develop games with a simpler scope; Lumines, the company’s first game and a PSP launch title, looks to fit that description.

Tetris is the first obvious notable gameplay inspiration, but Lumines takes the concept further. Square tiles, each made up of four distinct blocks that comprise a 2×2 matrix, fall from the top of the screen into a grid. Squares of like-colored blocks must then be arranged to eliminate tiles from the screen, so a large part of the action will be to quickly rotate the falling tiles to produce the winning alignments. Facilitating the simplicity, there are only two color possibilities for the blocks at any given time.

The sound and visuals promise to play a significant part in producing a distinct experience. Thanks to the PSP’s unique screen dimensions there is a noticeably wider play area than in other puzzle games. The game is heavily intertwined with its electronic-based soundtrack, which features artists Mondo Grosso and Eri Nobuchika. Matching blocks are eliminated when a line kept in tune with the music sweeps horizontally across the screen and passes over them. The PSP’s wide screen should permit the player enough time to plan block arrangements between passes of the line, while the game maintains the tension by increasing the speed of the timer and the falling tiles as the game progresses. Each song is associated with a particular set of visuals – called a Skin – which consist of unique backgrounds as well as different block colors.

Lumines comes with a few different modes of play. Challenge mode might especially appeal to classic puzzle game fans, where the goal is to obtain the highest score. There is a Multiplayer mode, which can also be played against a computer opponent in the absence of any human competition. Here, removing blocks makes the opponent’s play area smaller. Puzzle mode looks intriguing, where the player must complete pre-scripted goals such as constructing a specific shape on the screen. Timed mode is just what its name suggests: the purpose being to eliminate the most blocks in a limited amount of time.

Initial feedback from the game’s launch in Japan seems to be uniformly positive. There are some troublesome bug reports, though, but hopefully these will be corrected in time for the North American release. Those who’ve encountered the software bugs have still reported good impressions of the game, so it appears that Mizuguchi’s design concepts are at least a success. Whether this will translate into strong North American sales figures is another question of course. Traditionally, launch titles have fared slightly better than later comparable releases primarily due to the slimmer competition. This is not the case with the PSP, as it has over 20 launch candidates. Ubisoft also has a spotty marketing track record, with a few notable cases of having a strong product but not knowing how to properly market it – be it an internally designed product like Beyond Good & Evil or a Japanese import like Ape Escape 2. If their marketing team has learned its lessons and if the game turns out to be as strong as word-of-mouth hype indicates, then hopefully Lumines can find a wide audience.

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