Consoul's Blog Consoul Games: Lumines the Rezurrection?

Friday, January 14, 2005

Lumines the Rezurrection?

Back in the heyday of the Dreamcast, an odd little game emerged from Sega's United Game Artists called Rez. On the surface, the game was a simple shooter, but at its heart, it was a unique and hypnotically beautiful synaesthetic experience that explored the evolution of human civilisation and technology. The game developed a cult following and is still regarded by many as one of the must-have titles for both Dreamcast and PS2.

Fans of Rez have been waiting patiently for another comparable game experience. Industry legend Jeff 'Yak' Minter (who has been coding great games since 1982's Andes Attack on the Vic20) looked like he was going to deliver the goods with his much-anticipated Unity project for Gamecube. Seemingly the culmination of years of development on his "lightsynth" programs, Minter's Unity was to be published by recent OBE nominee Peter Molyneux's Lionhead studios. Tragically, the Unity project was cancelled with little explanation a little over a month ago.

So attention turned back to Tetsuya Mizuguchi, the designer of Rez (as well as Sega Rally and Space Channel 5), to provide a fresh gaming experience. Mizuguchi has since left Sega and established his own new studio. The first product from his Q Entertainment studio is a PSP title called Lumines (apparently pronounced "Loo-min-ez"). Is it the next Rez? Well, not quite.

That's not to say it's a bad game though. On the contrary, it's really very good, and does share notable similarites with Rez. Lumines is a puzzle game which clearly borrows from the Tetris tradition, and at a glance it could be mistaken for yet another clone in the sea of Tetris-derivatives. When you play it however, you realize that it's quite a fresh and original game. The basic premise is simple. 2x2 blocks made up of 4 small squares fall from the top of the screen. The squares are randomly either coloured or uncoloured, and you need to arrange the blocks to produce solid areas of 2x2 squares or larger that are coloured or not. A vertical 'beatline' constantly passes across the playfield from left to right, clearing the solid areas as it goes. It sounds too simple to be compelling, and yet, like Tetris, it is extremely and immediately addictive.

The main similarity with Rez is apparent in the way that the gameplay affects the audio-visual experience. Mizuguchi has enlisted the talents of Mondo Grosso and Nobuchika Eri to provide an immersive soundtrack that shifts and evolves as you play. Clearing areas of different sizes produces satisfying noises that fit in with the music and remain in time with the rhythm thanks to the timing of the moving 'beatline'. Shifting and dropping the blocks also produces sounds that become part of the music. The more you clear, the more the music grows and you eventually move on to new levels without any break in the gameplay, though the whole audio-visual style changes as the game continues. Each level (or 'skin') has it's own colour-scheme, animated background and distinct soundtrack, just as Rez did, while maintaing an overall style of abstract futurism.

The apparently simple gameplay mechanics feel almost instantly familiar and make the game easy to pick up and play. Of course you'll begin to discover the inherent complexities hidden in the system soon enough. The fact that the completed areas do not disappear immediately, but only when the beatline passes over them, introduces a whole new level of strategy to the game. It allows large combos to be chained, but can also create havoc if you complete an area at the exact moment the beatline is passing over it. Part of the area may be cleared, but part of it may remain, leaving an unexpected mess to clean up. The addition of special squares that will take all connected squares of the same type with them when cleared gives the player the occasional opportunity to reduce built up problem areas. In addition to the standard single, VS CPU and multiplayer modes, there are time attack modes and devious special challenges in which you need to build increasingly complex shapes. It's an ideal game for the PSP, as it's versatile modes can cater to a sixty second bash or a session lasting hours. It's also very power efficient, as it only loads data from the UMD briefly as the levels change during play.

With Lumines, Mizuguchi has delivered an engrossing puzzle game overflowing with uber-cool presentation that is uncharacteristic of the genre. It lacks some of the wow factor and all of the philosophical and anthropological exploration that elevated Rez into a class of its own, but stands as another brilliantly conceived and executed game in its own right.


Blogger Almo said...

Yeah. Lumines is awesome. It seems like a letdown for Rez-lovers at first, but over time it embeds itself in your head. Very nice game.

11:40 pm  
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10:19 pm  

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