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Best Game Ever – Lumines 2

posted on May 17th, 2007 by matt

When deciding upon which system to purchase next, many people will look for that one game to satisfy their needs almost immediately. Xbox had Halo and GameCube had Smash Bros. Melee. Well, you can add Lumines 2 for the PSP to that list. I’m here to tell you that you should buy a PSP for Lumines 2. Even if you never play another PSP game, you would still have spent your money wisely.

You’re probably asking yourself, “What makes Lumines 2 so special?” Well I’ll tell you, smartypants. Lumines 2, although somewhat of a Tetris clone, does some amazing things with its sound design. Things that I can say, without hesitation, are perfect examples of art within games. There are moments in Lumines 2 that I did not think could be created in a video game. Moments that easily making it one of the best games I’ve ever played in my entire life.

From the outside, Lumines 2 is a puzzle game that loosely resembles Tetris, with blocks falling down into a well, where the player must get rid of them to stay alive. The interesting twist in Lumines is that you have two colors that you must incorporate into your strategy. To get rid of blocks, you create a square made out of four same-colored blocks through the rotation and placement of the randomly chosen blocks that the game gives you. Once you start with that initial square, you’re able to add more blocks to it, creating an even bigger shape in the process.

To get rid of the newly-formed geometric shape, there is a bar that moves continuously across the screen, wiping away any of the squares that you’ve formed. This is also the major mechanic contributing to the game’s difficulty; the bar will sometimes move very slowly, while at other times move extremely quickly, depending on which “skin” you’re playing (Lumines’ version of levels). The quicker ones wipe the squares away faster, but don’t give you much of a chance to make the bigger shapes, which net you more points. The slower ones give you that ability, but force you to get dangerously close to filling up your well, and therefore dying.

It’s merely a standard puzzle game with new rules, but it has enough unique aspects to say it’s not a complete clone. If you like puzzle games, then Lumines is a great choice on that metric alone. It’s also one of those “easy to play, hard to master” kind of games, adding to the game’s longevity.

But where Lumines 2 really shines is in the music and sound department. The original Lumines had a great techno soundtrack, with songs like “Shinin’” from Mondo Grosso, and Lumines 2 continues that tradition with some amazing tracks, but this time adds a little more “pop” to its repertoire. Alongside songs like Junkie XL’s “Breezer” are Beck’s “Black Tambourine” and Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl”. It’s still primarily based in the techno realm, so if you didn’t like the musical offerings in the first game, there’s not enough of a difference here to warrant a second look. For me, there’s nothing better than playing Genki Rocket’s “Heavenly Star” skin (which, incidentally, was produced by Tetsuya Miziguchi himself).

But if you do like that kind of music, then you will be privy to one of the trippiest gaming experiences ever. In a stroke of genius, Q! Entertainment makes it so that when you do anything in the game, be it rotate a block or create a square, the game gives you a different auditory response. With some skins, this mechanic makes it seem like you are actually “playing” the song, if you can understand that.

Take for example, Beck’s “Black Tambourine” song. Every time you lay down a block on the bottom of the well, you cause a drum sound effect, which is pulled straight from the song. Play the level long enough, and your interactivity is actually creating the song. It’s not the exact same song, mind you, but the sounds are so similar that you are, in effect, creating a new song. It gets insanely crazy at some points, but it all works perfectly and sounds excellent.

Some skins even have a music video playing in the background, adding to the whole presentation of the game. And with some songs, the sounds that you are given are taken from the video, like Black Eyed Peas’ “Pump It.” It’s a music video involving some tuner cars, but the sound you make when you lay the blocks down is that of car doors being closed. So now, your interactivity is adding to the song AND the video. It’s border line ecstasy, I’m telling you.

In many ways, Lumines 2 is more of a musical rhythm game than it is a puzzler. Everything you do adds to the song, and it all sounds amazing. I get upset with Guitar Hero when the game cuts the song out when you miss a note, but Lumines doesn’t do that, effectively making you feel like a musical prodigy.

Of course, it’s still dependent on what music you like. If you don’t like techno or pop, you will probably hate Lumines 2. But if you’re like me and love music like that, you will be in heaven. The game even gives you the ability to create a 10-song play-list with your favorite songs, letting you skip the ones you don’t like. I personally would like to have seen a larger play-list, but 10 is still a good number.

I’ve spent the bulk of my time playing this mode, but there’s so much more to Lumines 2 you’ll wonder why they didn’t price it at $50. You have Mission Mode, where you complete a set of tasks in a defined number of moves, CPU Mode, which pits you against a CPU opponent, and Puzzle Mode, challenging you to create different shapes out of your blocks, such as a dog. There’s a lot to do in Lumines 2, supplying nearly 40 hours of gameplay, if not more.

And to end this Best. Game. Ever. article, I will describe one of those amazing moments that I mentioned earlier, referring to the whole “art in games” thing. In the “Girls” skin, you are playing to the beat of Takagi Masakatsu’s “Girls.” It’s a sweet-sounding classical song that wouldn’t sound out of place at a funeral, helping to describe how happy a life the deceased had. The video that plays in the background shows a young girl playing in a pond, but the camera angle is from under the water. So the picture you see is distorted from all the ripples the young girl is making with her hands.

Now, each time you do something, the girl says something, usually something very softly. With all the pieces set, the big picture starts to appear, and your mind begins to come up with a story for the girl. In my mind, the song is from the mind of one of the parents. Their little girl has passed on, and they are trying to remember her as she was: a happy little girl that was unfettered by the harsh realities of the real world. It’s a sweet moment in a young girl’s life that is bruised by the fact that she is not alive anymore. You soon become depressed, wishing something could be done.

All of this is being created by playing a video game. In many ways, this is the epitome of art. In an abstract and new way, it is communicating to me the life of a young girl, and the life she lived before she died. And it’s doing it in a way that isn’t usually seen: through gameplay in a video game, with all the added benefits of interaction, music, and graphics.

When talking about art, I can’t think of a single moment in a video game that tops this example. If you can, I would love to hear it, but I’ve played a lot of games, and Shadow of the Colossus is the only one that remotely comes close, and Lumines 2 destroys that game.

If that was the only thing in this game, I would still pay $20 for Lumines 2. It really is one of the greatest games ever made, and should be one of the first inductees to the Video Game Hall of Fame. Tetsuya Miziguchi has done things with sound that I still can’t believe are capable on a video game system. If you still won’t buy a PSP, for the love of God, steal one*. Just play Lumines 2 at least once. You won’t regret it.

But I do warn you: the Xbox Live Arcade version, Lumines Live!, does not have the licensed music that Lumines 2 has, effectively making it a gimped version. They originally only had Genki Rockets’ “Heavenly Star” free for download, but have since taken it down, with no explanation given. So if you want the true Lumines experience, you’re stuck buying a PSP.

*Videolamer does not condone the act of theft, and is therefore not responsible for the actions of anyone crazy enough to actually listen to me.

5 Comments

  1. TrueTallus said on October 8, 2007:

    After many months fighting the impulse, I’ve finally given in to your recommendation and played the game. I loved the first one and was always critical of the idea of the music videos, more popish soundtrack and repeat skins that came with the sequel, but now that I’ve put some time into it, I’m glad I took the plunge.

    With only a few exceptions (like that awful screaming voiceover track near the beginning of class b) the licensed stuff is really good. Heavenly Star, as you mentioned, is really amazing, and fits Lumines both visually and aurally like a glove. Pump It sounds just right and even, God help me, Holla Back Girl sounded fine when Luminized. The repeat tracks from the first game are re-designed enough (visually anyway) to be worth a visit, and its often strangely comforting to come across a great track like The Automobile Industry that I loved in the first game.

    If I’m being honest, I’ll admit that I didn’t find Girls quite as mind blowing as you did, though I’m sure it’s effect was diminished by my high expectations from reading your critique and the dizzying pace it’s placement on the lineup necessitates (it’s the final skin in its class). I should probably spend some more time with it actually paying attention to what’s going on instead of frantically trying to avoid imminent puzzle failure. I guess I’m also jaded from the (for me) perfect ‘you made it’ zen sunrise of the final skin (I pretty sure it’s called Flight) from the first game. I think I stared out the window for 10 minutes after that track, just thinking about life and my place in it.

    Regardless, I wanted to pass along a hearty thank you for turning me on to such a terrific game. If you hadn’t been so unapologetically enthusiastic, I might never have given it a try!

  2. matt said on October 8, 2007:

    I’m very glad you took the plunge, TrueTallus, and it makes me happy that you did enjoy yourself. I talk about Lumines 2 so much that I’ve started to think that I’ve gone out of my mind. This reassures me that I do, indeed, know what I’m talking about. At least somewhat:)

    And yeah, even though some of the songs I would never listen to otherwise (Holla Back Girl), they’re still enjoyable to play in Lumines. As for Girls, there have been a few skins that I never really enjoyed until I heard it a few times (Water, Flower, and Lights comes to mind), so I would suggest putting it on repeat (Skin Edit Mode) and see how you feel. And as you can see, I actually described the video incorrectly, which goes to show you how hard it is to fully grasp the skin on only a few playthroughs. So I do apologize on that. And if that’s not really your type of music, then that’s ok, too. I know I can’t get people to change their minds on what they do and don’t like.

    And the last skin in Lumines 1 is called Lights. I have the mp3 of it, if you so want it. I would have sent a link, but I can’t find one online. I do believe gmail and others let you send files larger than 5MB. I have most of the Lumines 2 licensed songs as well, with all original songs from the original Lumines on my HDD. Need anything, and I’m your man. Some of them I do have links for.

  3. TrueTallus said on October 9, 2007:

    I gave the “Girls” skin a more thorough look last night, and having now played it without my mind completely focused on not dying, I really like it. It sounds sad and beautiful and thought provoking. One of things I enjoy about Lumines is how each skin in ambivalent enough to let the person experiencing it come up with their own interpretation. My own impression of the song still had to do with loss, but I thought of it as more the mellow reminiscence of a woman looking back on who she was. Everything is unclear and distorted, but pleasant, and it’s clear to her that she’ll never be that little girl again for better or worse. Her life and the people in it have changed but she’s still somehow connected to the person she used to be. It doesn’t matter how you interpret it, though, because it will always be a moving and fascinating piece of “interactive literature”.

    And Lights was definitely the song I was thinking of. I tried it again yesterday, and the magic is still there. How do non-licensed songs sound outside the game? I can’t really picture what something like “My Generation” or “Rodent” would be like without the interactive cues to leaven the experience. If you don’t mind, an email or link to “The Automobile Industry” and “Lights” would be great if you have them, and a recording of “Heavenly Star” would rock!

  4. Matt said on October 9, 2007:

    Original songs out of the game sound pretty good actually. They aren’t as fantastic as when you actually interact with them, but they’re definitely entertaining. Here’s a link for the original songs:

    http://gh.ffshrine.org/soundtracks/1640

    As for Heavenly Star, here’s a link to PSP Fanboy where they give users a Heavenly Star media pack, filled with some cool stuff. It has the mp3 as well:

    http://www.pspfanboy.com/2006/10/03/exclusive-heavenly-star-fan-pack/

    As for Lights, that one I’ve found on the web through that Google mp3 hack, but it only shows up every so often. I have it myself, so if you’re dying for it, I could email it to you. Otherwise, you could continually use http://www.g2p.org/ to find it.

    And that was an awesome interpretation of Girls, I really liked that. See, Lumines 2 is crazy good:) I’ve told people that Lumines creates stories through its gameplay, but they’re like “A puzzle game, creating stories!? Ya right….”

  5. TrueTallus said on October 10, 2007:

    Awesome. Thanks for all the links, and as far as Lights goes, I think I’ll just try my hand at finding it myself. I can always just play the game to hear it until I get my hands on a recording.

    I’d say that, in many cases, the stories the Lumines series creates are often more compelling than a more traditional narative approach would allow because of the abstractness and simplicity the puzzle genre demands. The cool combination of the vaugeness that comes without a lot of exposition and the cohesive design that each skin demonstrates creates a unique story telling approach that encourages the participant to take ownership of the what’s going on while still being on the rails of the creaters origional vision. It’s the kind of thing that videogames have the potential to do really well, and it warms my heart to see a title so fully live up to it’s potential!

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