Nintendo took the world by storm when it released the Game Boy back in the late '80s, but much of the device’s early success was owed to a little game called Tetris that came as a pack-in. Featuring simple block-dropping gameplay, Tetris would go on to define a whole new genre of puzzle action games that’s still going strong to this day. Enter Lumines Remastered, a game which originally launched on the PSP back in 2004. It only takes a few seconds to recognize the DNA of Tetris in Lumines, yet it takes things to new heights by infusing the gameplay with audiovisual elements that simply need to be experienced to be understood. By creating its own identity, Lumines quickly sets itself apart as a high-quality, unforgettable, and wildly enjoyable puzzle action game that you’ll likely spend an unhealthy amount of hours trying to master.
Gameplay in Lumines is the perfect example of the age-old phrase 'easy to pick up, tough to master'. 2x2 blocks sporting two distinct colours constantly fall from the top of the screen, and it’s your job to position them in such a way that four squares of the same color line up in a 2x2 block. As you’re working on this, a 'Timeline' is constantly moving the length of the screen in time with the background music and it erases all blocks that you manage to assemble. If your board is starting to get buried, a block will sometimes drop with a special square, which eliminates all like-colored squares in an adjacent chain and can almost clear the board if you know where to put it.
Naturally, things deepen as you work further into the game and come to understand the nuances better. If you can get more than one monochromatic block assembled before the timeline sweeps again, you’ll score more points, and bigger bonuses will be awarded if you can keep up a streak of successful match ups. On top of this, different songs and stages lead to different block drop and timeline speed, which can greatly affect one’s strategy. If the timeline moves slower, for example, you have more time to set up several blocks before it resets, but you also have to go that much longer without blocks disappearing from your cramped and cluttered board. It’s the kind of gameplay cadence that almost perfectly straddles that line between frantic and relaxed; Lumines is the kind of game that will almost certainly put you ‘in the zone’ and seize all your attention.
There are several different game modes in Lumines, each offering a distinct twist or modifier on the core experience, while still staying focused on the core of what makes this game unique. The first of the 'main' modes is Challenge, which contains three separate sub-modes that are essentially as simple as it gets. Basic is the first sub-mode, and it tasks you with successfully clearing 100 levels in one shot. As the levels go up, the blocks gradually start coming faster and after a while the game will change 'Skins', meaning the look and the music of the stage will be switched up. This mode is where you unlock most of the skins for use across the whole game, though it’s quite a feat to make it far enough to unlock the later ones.
After making it decently far into Basic mode, you’ll unlock Shuffle mode, which is new to this remaster. As opposed to the linear progression of skins that you encounter in Basic mode, Shuffle mode allows you to play through all the skins you’ve unlocked so far in a randomized order. In addition to this, if you can manage to actually beat basic, you’ll then unlock endless mode, which is exactly what it sounds like.
If Challenge mode is a little too vanilla for you, the next mode in the list is Skin Edit, which allows you to select ten of the skins you’ve unlocked for a custom 'playlist' that you can then choose to run through in either a single lap, or on endless repeat. This is a nice inclusion as it not only gives you a more tangible record of your progress on unlocking skins, but it also gives you greater agency to tackle the skins that you want to focus on. If you want to hear all your favorite songs, or perhaps want more practice on the tougher ones, this is the place to go.
Time Attack is the next mode, offering up the first minor twist on the basic formula. Here, you can select a challenge of 60, 180, or 300 seconds, and the goal is not to score as many points as total, but to clear out as many blocks as you can. This demands that you approach puzzle-solving a bit differently, as it’s no longer about building up combos, but about clearing everything out as quickly as possible. It’s a bit of a bummer, however, that you’re restricted to a single preset skin when doing Time Attack, but this is something that can be overlooked easily.
Then there's Puzzle mode, and this is where things start to get interesting. There’s a total of 100 puzzles, ranging from easy to super hard, each of which task you with constructing a certain shape out of your blocks within a limited time. Things like dogs, horses, UFOs, and airplanes show up here, and require a fundamentally different way of thinking. While the early puzzles can be solved rather easily by just sticking a few specific block types together, later ones make you think a few steps ahead and plan out how certain blocks’ disappearances will enable you to progress further. Considering the depth and number of puzzles, this mode is sure to keep you on your toes with the new kind of thinking involved, and stood out to us as the best extra mode.
Mission mode comes next and, much like Puzzle mode, tasks you with fulfilling certain conditions to clear each stage. There’s a total of 50 missions to be cleared and these are carefully designed puzzles that involve you solving problems like clearing out only one column of squares, or giving you a fixed order of blocks and tasking you with clearing them all out in a certain number of moves. While being delightfully brain-busting in its own right, Mission Mode also has the secondary appeal of teaching you plenty of techniques and formations that can be carried over into the other modes.
Next up is VS CPU, which is the ‘arcade mode’ of Lumines. Here, you’re challenged with taking on a gauntlet of ten CPUs, with each successive battle significantly ratcheting up the difficulty. The board is cut in half, with each contestant given a side to work with, and scoring successful match-ups and combos will push your side of the stage further into the CPU territory, giving you more space to work with and giving them less. It goes both ways, of course, and the first one to fill their side to the top loses. What’s exciting about this mode is how dynamic things can get, especially with the higher-level CPUs, and it makes for a far faster-paced experience than any other mode.
Finally, there’s 2P Battle, which is functionally the same thing as VS CPU, but with a buddy on the other side. The inclusion of split Joy-Con play is a big plus here, as the easy to pick up nature of the core gameplay pairs wonderfully with the ability to slide off the controllers at any time for a quick game. Matches are generally short in length, making them ideal for that ‘one more go’ feeling while also ensuring that the playing field gets reset after only a few minutes. Our only complaint here is that there’s no form of online multiplayer, which feels like an unfortunate miss. It’s not a game breaker by any means, but just be aware that you’re going to have to be dependent on a friend or the CPU battles if you want that fast-paced, head-to-head action anytime.
All of these games modes are governed by an in-game achievement system, which gives you an incentive to push yourself to new challenges and to branch out into all the game modes. Doing things like hitting certain score thresholds or completing modes under a time limit will net you new avatars to represent you. In any game mode, these avatars sit on your side of the screen and functionally act as a ‘health bar’; dancing if you do well and playing dead if you don’t. Penguins, cats, dogs, tanks, and robots are all par for the course here, and the coolest ones are locked away behind the hardest achievements. These achievements are a welcome inclusion; not only do they give you tangible rewards for completing them, but they give you a bit more reason to play through the game modes than just for the sake of it.
Though there sadly aren’t any head-to-head online modes in Lumines, there are still leaderboards to keep you motivated to score higher. There’s a separate list for each game mode, and these will show how you stack up relative to local scores, your friends, or the whole world. The leaderboards may be a relatively minor feature in the bigger picture, but they’re a nice quality of life addition to the game that’ll help give it some longer legs
On the presentation side of things, Lumines Remastered is quite the showcase. Music is as integral a part of the game as its gameplay and director Tetsuya Mizuguchi spared no expense in putting together a knockout soundtrack of trance, house, and groove music that’s as weird as it is wonderful. While not every track on here is necessarily a hit, they’re all catchy in their own way, and go a long way towards carving out the distinct identity that Lumines is known for. These sonic arrangements are joined by equally bizarre and hypnotic visuals that provide a varied and interesting treat for the eyes. Backgrounds explode in a menagerie of color and light, images and animations, but the real trick is that none of this visual splendor detracts one iota from your enjoyment of the puzzle action. Boards are easily readable regardless of the skin being employed at the time, meaning that you get the best of both worlds in terms of visual appeal and usability.
For the Switch version, HD Rumble is also supported, and this helps to elevate the experience even further in terms of immersion factor. The Joy-Con will lightly rumble each time you drop a block, and they even pulse to the rhythm of the beat, which has the secondary effect of helping predict when the timeline will complete another full sweep without needing to look at it. Though the rumble can sometimes get a little loud in handheld mode, the developer fortunately had the foresight to allow you to adjust which elements the rumble responds to, or to turn it off completely. It also bears mentioning that Lumines looks gorgeous on the portable screen and, considering how the game sounds when you put in headphones, we’d highly recommend that you spend time with this one undocked. Those of you worried about performance will be pleased to know that we didn’t notice any frame drops in docked or undocked modes, so you’re not losing anything by taking it on the go.
Lumines Remastered is a luminary of the puzzle genre and feels perfectly at home on the Switch. Intense and immersive puzzle action, psychedelic visuals, a killer soundtrack, and a bevy of content and modes make for a premier puzzle experience that should not be missed. Lumines is an addictive experience that is positively a delight to play, and we would highly recommend it to both veterans and newcomers of the puzzle genre. There’s something here for everyone, and considering the relatively low price tag, Lumines Remastered is very much ‘required playing’ for any Switch owner.