I was serious when I likened Lumines to Tetris. The elegance of the gameplay has a “why didn’t anyone think of this before?” thing going on. Simple. Pure. Captivating.
Having said that, I think the game fails at a couple of crucial points. In its natural state, the game is a system of organizing binary data in time to electronic music. This game is essentially a drug for people with my particular mental makeup. The mixture of left brain provocation (introducing disorder to a system which the player must combat through sorting) and right brain stimulation (the music) is the kind of thing that causes me to completely lose track of time.
The problem comes with the different “skins” in the game. Every three-ish minutes, the game completely re-invents itself. The pieces change color and appearance. The music changes. The animated background changes. The rhythm changes. Most of these skins are like this one:
…which has striking contrast and a catchy tune. Also fun is this one:
…which also combines clear visibility with a bouncy tune. But every once in a while you have to endure three minutes of this:
This one is so ugly that it actually causes discomfort. The pieces have no overall contrast. Green on red vs. Red on green? Ugh. And the “music” here is just a looping sound of echoing voices, like someone mumbling nonsense into a time-delay feedback loop. It sounds like someone’s nightmare. Both parts of my brain instantly stop having fun as both the color-based sorting and the aesthetics go right to hell.
Less extreme but still annoying is this one:
The pieces look fine in still frame, but the background image is a high-contrast pattern that’s constantly shifting, which makes reading the board of semi-translucent pieces more challenging than it ought to be. When that bright white spot gets right in the middle of the board, it can be tough to tell what the heck is going on.
When one of these levels pop up, it’s actually a great deal of effort to continue the game. The game is suddenly harder not because it’s moving faster or things are more complicated, but because I can’t see what I’m doing. I can only assume that this was an intentional decision on the part of the game designer, to challenge the player in different ways. The downside is that the game instantly loses all of its charm and becomes a trial which must be endured. Messing with the visibility of the board betrays the logic-puzzle / pattern matching gameplay, which doesn’t need obfuscation in order to daunt the player.
The shift in music also feels schizophrenic. I actually wouldn’t mind the “hoedown” music if it was kind of catchy and the game stuck with that theme. But leaping from one unrelated genre of music to the next is frustrating and flow-breaking, particularly when the non-electronic bits are so grating. (You can loop a few seconds of thumping electronic dance music more easily than you can loop a few seconds of banjo playing. Ugh.) This is exacerbated by the fact that the music and sound effects share a common volume slider, so you can’t just turn off the music and provide your own unless you want to also give up all in-game sound.
It’s not that these things ruin the game. Allow me to point you back at my second paragraph if you’ve lost hold of that crucial context. I still enjoyed it. (Too much.) It’s just that the game could be so much more satisfying without these unpopped kernels in Lumines’ bag of popcorn. Then again, if this game had been more enjoyable I might not have been able to stop playing.
You can play the game online at Wild Tangent, although you should be aware of their business practices before you put their bits on your hard drive. I got my copy on the Steam store, which also offers a demo.
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