Good puzzle games allow me to get into zen-like “zone” states every dozen or so playthroughs. Great puzzle games not only offer this as well (and more frequently) but also have a natural knack for making me a better player, subconsciously or otherwise. The Lumines series falls under that latter group. Its two-color, square-shaped falling piece challenges delivers a level of simplicity that makes for an immensely accessible experience. And if you’re wondering about its immense strategic depth, one only need glance at the global high scores across its myriad installments. The recently released Lumines Remastered–an updated and slightly enhanced version of Lumines: Puzzle Fusion–boasts top performers with scores in the millions. It’s an achievement for me to crack 100,000. Yet the beauty of Lumines is how I never feel like I’ve hit a mental wall, that the next session has the potential of a new high score.
While the multiplatform Lumines Remastered foregoes the sterile beauty of the original game’s menu (and other UI elements) for an equally welcoming but more pop-y interface, the nostalgia itch is well-scratched the moment you jump into a play session. As with many Lumines fans, the PSP version was my introduction, so it was both soothing and stimulating to kick off my new session–this time on Nintendo Switch–with Mondo Grosso’s Shinin’, one of the best opening tracks to any music-propelled game, right up there with Offspring’s ‘All I Want’ in Crazy Taxi.
The original Lumines was one of the few worthwhile puzzle games to effectively capture the Tetris-inspired appeal of falling and rotatable tetrominos (shapes made up of four squares). Whereas Tetris’ seven pieces vary in shape, Lumines’ pieces are all 2 by 2 squares. Using only two colors, you have to handle six different piece types as they fall one by one. Clearing the playing field requires matching at least four same-colored squares in blocks. As far as the Switch version is concerned, the Joy-Con controls are adequately suited for Lumines. Admittedly, I did fail at a few block placements due to the small layout of the directional buttons on the left Joy-Con relative to the size of my thumb.
The random flow of piece output meant that I wasn’t assured a better score in subsequent playthroughs, but the simplicity of Lumines’ design ensured that I would get better over time. Not that Lumines has anything substantial to share about life goals, but it does subtly teach the benefits of long-term planning over immediate satisfaction. Clearing squares four a time to reach 20,000 points in 10 minutes isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? Triggering a grid-clearing combo that hits 20,000 points in 10 seconds. Its through comboing that players discover Lumines’ tactical depth, where you can have two 40-minute sessions with vastly different scores.
Travelling from skin to skin–24 backgrounds in all–changes the block designs and the music without interruption. The drive to higher scores supersedes any preference on any tune or visual aesthetic, though its always a relief to leave a less appealing skin in favor of a pattern that is easier on the eyes. Beyond the set flow of Basic mode, Shuffle and other game types–some inspired by Lumines sequels–-add variety to Lumines Remastered.
That said, the main mode known as Challenge is worth the price of admission alone, where all the additional game types is gravy and more. Playing with your preferred skins almost always leads to better scores. Puzzle and Mission modes teaches how to eliminate block configurations in inventive ways, the techniques of which can be applied to Challenge mode. Competitively, the AI holds its own in the Vs CPU mode though if you want to play against another person, you’re limited to local multiplayer. So yes, it’s unfortunate that Lumines Remastered doesn’t offer online multiplayer, especially when it’s easy to imagine well-designed matchmaking based on your overall performance.
Lumines Remastered also delivers sobering reminder that there’s only a handful of truly memorable falling piece puzzle games, Lumines’ main mode being one of them. While we might not see a new take on this sub-genre that will be equally unforgettable for another decade, at least I can learn to break Lumines Remastered’s million point ceiling in the meantime.