It seemed like the perfect idea. It was one of those “no brainer” situations that happen every once in a while in the games industry, usually resulting in great success for all. How a simple idea such as bringing Q Entertainment's deliciously addictive Lumines to the Xbox Live Arcade turned out to be such an epic disaster can be summed up in one word: greed. Unless the developer and Microsoft's position on this downloadable title changes both radically and quickly, then it is in the best interests of both the gamer and the industry at large that consumers not purchase this title.
Is the game that bad? Well, no. For once, the recommendation on whether or not to buy is not based on the quality of the game itself, but how much of the actual game you get for your 1200 Microsoft Points ($15). To be blunt, gamers are essentially paying for a glorified demo.
The game includes all of the rhythmic, Tetris-inspired addictive gameplay that made the PSP version such a runaway hit. While many puzzle games have mimicked this formula, few do it as well as Lumines does with its compelling array of music, color, and shape shifting style. Players are given an open area in which they drop quarterly-segmented blocks, each block containing two different colors. The challenge is to arrange the falling blocks so that two like-color sides match up to create a solid color block of its own, which will then be cleared out by the sweeper to make room for more. Sounds easy, right?
Players will notice the rhythm portion of the game plays a unique role. Certain actions the player takes affects the music by adding sampled sounds or by repeating ones currently being heard. At certain points during the game's progression, the entire layout redesigns itself into different shapes with different colors and then sets itself to different music. This constant redesign on-the-fly is what makes Lumines so addictive and so fun.
This is all with a view toward unlocking various skins as you climb the ladder of accomplishment within the game. Various game modes include “time attack,” where players are racing against the clock to destroy a set number of blocks, as well as mission modes that have players seeking a specific goal. Even the multiplayer aspect is pretty addictive, as players can compete with others over Xbox Live in a kind of “ground acquisition” style of gameplay. As you and your opponent progress, a “property line” moves back and forth across the middle of the screen. The player who accomplishes more is actually “pushing out” the opponent by taking over the screen real estate.
For those who would like to skip the “varied” experience that occurs when playing against humans over Xbox Live, there's the VS CPU mode. This mode plays not unlike the multiplayer mode, and in the beginning it starts off with a jungle-themed skin and music style. Again, destroying blocks will push the “real estate meter” toward your opponent and...
Huh? What's this? After purchasing the 1200 point “base” pack and defeating the first “VS CPU” opponent, a big fat box appears on the screen containing the text, “Congratulations on completing “VS CPU mode”! Full 10 Stages of “VS CPU Mode” can be played after purchasing both the Base Pack and the VS CPU Pack. The VS CPU Pack is coming soon on Xbox Live Marketplace!”
This is a very bad precedent indeed. There was no warning to this, and considering Lumines is the most expensive Live Arcade title (along with its brother, Bankshot Billiards, which also costs 1200 points) it really comes across as a kick in the teeth by both Q Entertainment and Microsoft. While the microtransaction and digital distribution models are in their infancy and still need some time for the market to straighten them out, the actions taken by the likes of EA (for charging money for uniforms, stadiums, and cheats in their sports games, all which are usually free) and now the makers of Lumines cannot be tolerated. If we take into account all of the “packs” they are promising for Lumines (they have segmented the game like a grapefruit) and estimate a conservative amount of points (600) they will charge for them, Lumines Live will end up costing gamers approximately $40 for a complete version.
For gamers, this issue is an essential one. Before our full, sixty-dollar titles start pausing and demanding 800 “points” to continue to the next level we have to make our positions loud and clear. We have to speak with our digital wallets and NOT buy Lumines (or any of the other nickel and dime drivel EA is now trying to charge for) over the Xbox Live marketplace. Nothing speaks louder than a silent cash register.
Much like the game itself, the final score will be delivered as a segmented mess:
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