Lumines Electronic Symphony seems simplistic, but it still offers a challenge for even the best puzzlers out there. As blocks fall, you’ll have to rotate falling cubes to build blocks of the same colour into a four-by-four square; once that square is built, more blocks can be combined onto the initial block until a bar passes from left to right. When the bar sweeps past it clears squares of the same colour. It’s a difficult process to put in words, but becomes perfectly clear after only minutes of playing.
The interface is gorgeous, smooth and simple to navigate exclusively with the front touch screen, while gameplay can be controlled with either the standard buttons or the touch screen. Whereas the button controls are as well designed as they always were, using the touch screen can become a little frustrating: as a game that demands precision and speed, trying to manipulate the blocks using your finger just isn’t practical. Often the block will rotate too slowly or slide over a single position, causing entire combos to be ruined and causing extra work for the gamer in order to correct the mistake.
Even with such a simple puzzle concept, the action doesn’t get boring as quickly as you might think due to the impressive visuals and invigorating soundtrack. It might not be a title you play for hours upon hours as it can get repetitive, but on a portable platform, moderation is already a factor. If you’re a fan of techno or electronica music it's almost guaranteed that you'll love the soundtrack; Electronic Symphony wasn’t just thrown on as a subtitle because it sounds cool.
Each song has its own theme, or skin, adding variation while playing. Themes consist different colours or shapes of blocks as well as excellently designed backgrounds that generally feature video clips and moving images. These minor changes help keep gameplay fresh when clearing blocks from song to song. Also, as blocks are moved, rotated, dropped and cleared the music will adjust accordingly, making the soundtrack interactive.
One new addition is the inclusion of special abilities for your avatar, which range from changing the order and structure of your next three blocks to starting a chain combo, where any block touching the chain blocks will be obliterated in the next pass of the time line. Depending on the selected avatar, different specials will be available in both single and multiplayer modes; building the abilities is as easy as either simply clearing pieces or drumming on the rear touch pad.
By completing puzzles in different game mode, you’ll also gain experience and level up to unlock skins, avatars and new songs, giving an inventive to play ‘just one more’ bringing forth an extremely rewarding system. The only real downside is that even after a song is unlocked, there is no “soundtrack” mode to listen to the amazing songs: you’ll just obtain the ability to select them in Playlist mode and the ability to view their skins.
There are a few different modes: Voyage, Master, Duel, Stopwatch and Playlist. The main mode is called Begin Voyage, which will cycle through all the unlocked songs without break until the player fills the play area and cannot place a block. The transitions between songs are smooth and exciting as the skin evolves into the next song, but it should be noted that this mode doesn’t fit the portable gaming platform too well as it’s not uncommon for a Voyage to go on for over an hour.
Master Mode is a style more familiar to puzzle gamers. As time progresses and more blocks are cleared, gameplay speeds pick up, increasing pressure on the player to quickly clear out blocks. The more cleared pieces, the higher the Zone you can progress to, with Zone 1 being the easiest and Zone 5 being the most difficult. This mode will probably be the most played as it’s significantly shorter than Voyage and and feels just as rewarding.
Duel mode is the multiplayer style similar to previous titles, with the ability to use special attacks the only real addition. Unfortunately, this mode only works via Ad Hoc networking and not true online play — with the online capabilities of the PS Vita, this is extremely disappointing as multiplayer is heaps of fun.
All modes offer online leaderboards and take part in a fairly unique feature called the World Block. Every 24 hours, players around the world work together to clear a set number of blocks. By contributing, you’ll unlock massive amounts of experience with doing nothing more than just playing the game. Working together with a common goal is a cool feature and being able to compare your contribution to the average will bring out the competitive nature of anyone.
Even with the frustrating — and completely optional — touch controls and lack of an online multiplayer mode, Lumines Electronic Symphony is the best in the series. With stunning visuals, immersive audio and addictive gameplay, it's an ideal buy for newcomers and puzzle veterans alike.