Ever since its debut on the PSP, the Lumines series has been something of a cult classic. Its blend of techno music and match-4 puzzle gameplay was a winning formula right out of the gate. Since then, it's seen a release on every Sony platform, the Xbox Live Arcade, Steam, and has even been paid homage to on the Dreamcast in the form of Irides: the Master of Blocks.
The core gameplay in the Vita entry is the same as it ever was - pulse-pounding beats play while you match four falling tiles of two different colors together on a massive grid. Vertical lines help you aim the blocks and dazzling backgrounds and stage-specific tile designs keep things visually interesting. It all sounds very simple, but there's a lot of depth in the game as well. You need to be very efficient with your tile placement due to how quickly the game clears the screen of fully set blocks.
This means you'll need to learn how to make the most out of a four tile set of alternating colors - if you arrange them properly on an existing pair, you'll set yourself up for a full square that can be taken away during the next pass. If you don't do that, you'll wind up with a large amount of single-color tiles that require more work to get off the screen, and can easily result in things getting too cluttered quickly.
The game's formula may not have changed, but that's not really a bad thing. This is one of those games where delivering exactly what players expect is a good thing. I was pleasantly surprised at how well the Vita's hardware is used here. While the front touch screen controls for placing the tiles are too sensitive for my liking, I do love the drag and drop setup for creating custom playlists of stages, and tapping the screen for menu options is nice.
There are a few ways to mix things up in LES. You can choose to impose a strict time limit of 30, 60, 120, or 300 seconds where the goal isn't so much survival, but efficiency since you want to see just how many matches you can make within that time frame. That is ratcheted up with the Master mode that drops pieces down at a relatively fast clip and will overwhelm you until you get somewhat acclimated to it. The great thing about it is that it never gets frustrating despite how hard it is. It's the game's greatest challenge, and yet no matter how many times you fall short of unlocking the next level of difficulty, you never get mad - you just strive to improve. There's also multi-player via ad hoc and a daily World Block you can work on and gain tons of XP with.
From an AV perspective, the game delivers the goods. The graphics are about the same as ever - colorful and very active backgrounds highlight it one way, while the diverse look of the tiles keeps things interesting. In the case of the stage with a donut-themed background and chocolate tiles, it may also make you hungry. The soundtrack is a bit more diverse than I was expecting, with more than just the usual techno songs included. There are some nice, relaxing songs as well, and they really fit their stages perfectly.
All in all, Lumines Electronic Symphony is an outstanding puzzle game and a worthy addition to the series. However, I think its price of $40 at retail and $36 on the PSN is a bit too steep for the relatively lean amount of content here. Lumines Live costs less even with DLC and offers up more content - including online play. There's also a weird issue where the game may freeze up your system when you're installing it - rebuilding the system's database seems to solve the problem, but it's an issue that shouldn't be there to begin with. I'd say the game is worth a $20 or less purchase if you must have another version of it on the go, otherwise, many can just have their needs met by the demo, which is perfect in the sense that it allows you to play the core game as long as possible - making it perfect for short bursts of play without the high cost of the full game.
This review is based on a retail copy of Lumines Electronic Symphony for the PlayStation Vita purchased by the reviewer.