Game Description: Lumines II is the sequel to popular puzzle-action game. Gamers control squares made of four smaller block pieces that are dropped into the playing field one at a time to form same-color squares. The vertical "timeline" sweeps across the playing field from left to right and wipes the same-color squares from the playing field. Unmatched blocks pile up, and the game ends when the pile gets to the top of the playing screen. Advance through many action-packed levels, each with its own musical theme and sound effects.
During the PSP's unspectacular first year, Lumines was the first word that sprang to mind if ever a defence of the system was called for. Even now the launch game sits comfortably atop both Metacritic's and GameRankings's PSP leader boards, with no other original franchise game in either top ten (save for a Jak & Daxter spin-off). Little wonder, then, that Tetsuya Mizuguchi's puzzler is often mentioned in the same breadth as Pazhitnov's Tetris; comparable as much in sheer quality as in its evidently perfect fit on a young handheld.
Both games also cast the same disconcertingly bewitching spell: shape-based gameplay that seeps into the subconscious like a soothing anaesthetic to the brain. Lumines II adds nothing and takes nothing away from its forebear's winning recipe of block-falling gameplay and dazzling ‘skins' (the playing grid's shifting audio-visual theme). In view of the identical mechanics, the new skin selection (now more manageably spread across 3 different difficulties rather than one great marathon) and the musical styles they frame are paramount in determining this sequel's worth.
Those who thought the inclusion of chart-friendly rock and pop would wake them up from the trancy hallucination that the first game's Rez-flavoured electronica jacked them into are to some extent justified in their concerns. It is certainly noticeable when, say, Black Eyed Peas appear behind the falling blocks, or when Gwen Stefani crashes the puzzle party pretending to be a cheerleader in high school; MTV regulars feel a little too conventionally structured and vocally brash to blend in with the respectfully zoned-out mood. But then it is also nice that some familiarity is injected into the lengthy play sessions, and those looking forward to the hits will find them a suitably fun progress incentive.
Thankfully, Lumines II supplements its aesthetic remix with enough new content to deflect cash-in criticisms. A new Mission Mode joins an extended Puzzle Mode in offering dozens of timed, single-screen challenges, both consolidated through extensive unlock structures to become major features. Also included is an excellent, user-friendly music sequencer that is every bit as playfully hypnotic as the game itself. There's a return for the brutal, quick thinking intensity of Vs CPU Mode and its multiplayer equivalent (Duel Mode); a demo for Mizuguchi's PSP interpretation of innovative freeware shooter Every Extend; a Skin Edit mode where you can create custom playlists of your favourite unlocked skins; and to top it off the player's stats are all ruthlessly tracked and rated just to demonstrate how hard it's going to be to scratch that Lumines itch once and for all.
But even though Lumines II is clearly the ultimate in travel bag time machines, it rises above the numerous other handheld titles that could make a similar claim simply because the core experience is so powerful. Fans might reasonably argue that certain new skins move away from the purer and arguably better-integrated feedback loop of the first game (some of the square-moving sound effects here are just plain annoying) and that the inclusion of mainstream acts takes the edge off of the first game's euphoric rave buzz. Others may well find the tweaked aesthetics a refreshing and subtle way of channelling that same buzz along slightly different neuron paths.
Familiarity aside, however, Mizuguchi's latest experiment in merging simple mechanics with mesmerizing feedback remains an invigorating success, and probably more compulsive and complete than any other he's conducted, even if it's not necessarily the final word on the subject.
According to ESRB, this game contains: Lyrics, Mild Violence, Suggestive Themes
With regards to the ESRB rating, I'm clueless as to where the Mild Violence and Suggestive Themes are in the game, but I assume they are hidden in one of the background videos along with the Lyrics that Parents are being advised to watch out for. Basically, this is MTV-level material, although it contains nothing as lurid as some of the music promos that station airs on its daytime playlist.
As for fans, if more Lumines is the craving, then Lumines II is the cure. Most will be happy that the mechanics remain untouched, but it does mean that the incentive for buying the sequel is ‘limited' to continuing the chase for high scores against new skins and to delving into the revised bonus modes, where thoughtfully extended structures make them more lasting foils to the main game than before. Overall, it is a comprehensive puzzle package, so fans and newcomers alike will find plenty to get their teeth into.
I feel I should note that the game is as visually busy and intense as they come on PSP, and gamers with visual sensitivity or epilepsy are advised caution when playing, as focusing on the screen for too long can be disorientating even for regular players. It is also worth bearing in mind that, given the rules of the game, any visual disability that affects color- or pattern-recognition skills may cause difficulty or confusion during play.
Deaf and Hard of Hearing gamers will miss out on the lavish audio feedback, and while none of it is actually necessary to play the game, it is where Lumines derives much of its unique appeal. Puzzle and Mission play modes owe much less to that audio experience, however, and Lumines II remains a well-crafted puzzle game regardless.