On its surface, Lumines - which is pronounced luminous, by the way - is very simple. Groups of four blocks, made up of no more than two colours, drop from the top of the screen (in much the same way a tetrimino does in Tetris) and you must arrange them in such a way as to ensure at least four like-coloured blocks are aligned in a square. The more you group up, the better.
Things get a little more interesting, mechanically, when you learn that the groups of segments you’ve managed to create are only cleared when a line that travels from left to right of the screen intersects with them. While this might initially seem like an arbitrary feature, in fact it lends a lot of complexity and depth to proceedings. All of a sudden, timing when the block you’re dropping will join the group on the bottom is of significant importance.
The basic mechanics, important as they are, really are just the beginning. Like Rez and Space Channel 5 - also by Tetsuya Mizuguchi - music plays a big part in how Lumines plays out. Everything you do - moving blocks, scoring points, or hell - pressing a button, is musical and perfectly in time to whatever awesome piece of electronica is playing at the time.
There are also some new elements to the formula, if you're already familiar with it, including brick-based powerups like the shuffle block that literally randomizes every block on the playfield. It typically ends well, particularly if you're in the late game and your board is largely full of unmatched blocks, but on occasion you'll find your best laid plans are instead laid bare as the blocks therein flip to the wrong state for you to leverage. It's a fun inclusion and one that always gets the blood pumping when it appears.
Another new feature is the fact that the (previously present but otherwise useless) Avatars now all sport interesting powerups in addition to their quirky visage. You'll have to work hard to unlock them, but doing so will give you all manner of interesting abilities - selecting one to play with is almost a game in itself, with on-call powerups - like changing the next three blocks to all be the same colour, or increasing the delay between blocks appearing - tipping the scale in your favour.
The soundtrack is superb. The track listing, which is made up of some 34 licensed tunes, is loaded with some of the biggest names in electronica. Underworld, The Chemical Brothers, Aphex Twin, Mylo - hell, there's even a track in here from the Pet Shop Boys. It is, in a word, epic.
But how does it play? You get the basic idea - blocks fall down, arrange by colour - and to start with, that's how it feels. A simplistic affair, you think. About as complex as tying up shoelaces, you muse. About game five, once you've gotten the hang of it and things have sped up enough that you start to peel back the obvious and see the complex underneath, things... change.
Peripheral information, stuff that's going on outside of your Vita, starts to disappear. The music - without touching the volume controls - gets louder. The screen seems to expand, filling more of your vision; a result, perhaps, of your inadvertent leaning in as your focus increases.
It becomes, in a word, intense. In fact, once you really get the hang of it, and start moving through the various "skins" (unlocking them for future use as you do), getting deeper with each successive game, the experience becomes almost transcendental. Not only that, but the need to keep stacking those bricks in a way that brings about ever greater matches... it's addictive at an almost physical level.
Sure, there's not many modes (puzzle gamers that have played a recent Tetris game, for example, will be - initially - deeply miffed at the basic options on offer here), and the interface is a bit on the perfunctory side of the quality scale. But who cares. The core mode is that good that it stands up well enough to be worthy of the full retail price Ubisoft are charging for the game. Yeah, you can get similar things for a buck on your fancy smartphone, but that's like comparing a Big Mac and fillet steak. They're both gonna stop you from dying of hunger, but you'll only lust after one of them.
Lumines is a phenomenally clever game polished to a new level of perfection by the masters at Q Entertainment. If you like puzzle games, you simply need to get this game. I don't care if you've got other stuff to do, none of it will be as thrilling as filling your life with Lumines. None of it.