“Tetris made Game Boy and Game Boy made Tetris.” – Henk Rogers.
Tetris on Game Boy is one of gaming’s greatest killer apps. The simple and addictive gameplay was enhanced by the portability of the Game Boy. While either alone would have been classics, together they were a phenomenon. While not as wildly successful, Lumines is to the PSP what Tetris was for the Game Boy.
The PSP wasn’t just a portable game system. Sony also sold it as a music player, a successor to their portable tape player the Walkman. New PSPs included ear buds to emphasize this. To truly achieve the goals of the PSP a game would need to be a fusion of game and music.
Enter Lumines: Puzzle Fusion. Its gameplay bears some similarity to Tetris. You control 4-piece blocks along the top of the screen, dropping them onto a field. Your goal: clear the field to prevent blocks from reaching the top of the screen. One of many difference in Lumines, blocks are always 2×2 squares. Each smaller square being one of two colors. To clear blocks you must create at least a 2×2 square of a single color. Once the 2×2 is made it can be extended into any other rectangle to clear additional squares.
Unlike Tetris, these rectangles do not clear as soon as they are made. Instead a bar sweeps across the screen. As it crosses completed rectangles it clears them out. The speed of the bar depends on the “skin”* you’re playing and the speed of its music. Music is not just part of the background; this mechanic integrates deep into the gameplay. Slower songs let you take your time to build up massive combos, while fast tracks create anxiety as you try to keep up with the beat.
Skins include more than just new tunes. Each has its own color palette, block shape, background animation, and sound effects. Sounds and visuals react to your inputs and progress, creating a sense that you aren’t just listening/watching, but are actively involved in its creation. Experiencing every skin, alongside compelling puzzle gameplay, drives the desire to keep playing.
While Tetris is tall, Lumines is wide. Another way in which it was tailor-made for the PSP, making full use of the PSPs unique* wide-screen**. The colorful visuals also showed off its higher resolution and processing power.
*for the time
**which reminds me, the PSP was also intended to be used for movies. It wasn’t a popular aspect of the system.
It may not have reached the legendary status of Tetris* Lumines managed to create a compelling and more modern take on the block dropping puzzle. I feel its greatest innovation are “skins”, adding some additional motivation and style to traditional puzzle gameplay. The designer of Lumines, Tetsuya Mizuguchi, is now working on Tetris Effect. This will take Tetris’s gameplay and add Lumines’s skins, a true best of both worlds scenario.
*and really, what else has?