One of my most bitter disappointments of 2018 was not owning a PS4; not because I couldn’t play God Of War or Spiderman (although those are pretty rad games I would play had I owned the console), but because I couldn’t play Tetris Effect when it launched exclusively on PS4. It will probably come out eventually on other systems, but in the meantime I had to find something to satisfy my appetite for gorgeous-looking, “easy to learn, hard to master”, score-driven puzzle games, and so I went back to one of my most shameful entries on my backlog of video games: Lumines; specifically, the 2018 remastered edition.
At the time of its original release, Lumines did not seem like my kind of game; it was flashy, had a soundtrack that was too colorful for me (yes, I was a shitty teenager), and the premise did not seem that promising. For those who don’t know, Lumines is Puyo-Puyo, but with some subtle and important changes: For starters, the squares you drop on the playing field are not fixed—so if you drop half of a square on top of an already placed square, the half will remain on top of it—and you do not clear squares when you match up colors on a 4×4 grid; instead, a line will scan through the field and once it passes over the entire field, it will erase the squares that were completed and count the successful attempts, in order to provide points and combos. Once you hit a certain threshold, the stage will clear and you will move on to the next one, with different visuals, music, rhythm, pace for the blocks dropping and for the line passing through the grid, but that only tells half the story of why this game is so beloved and, presumably, why Tetris Effect is hailed as one of the best Tetris games out there.
Tetsuya Mizuguchi, executive producer of Lumines, Tetris Effect, and Rez, has become infamous (after breaking into the scene with Sega Rally Championship) for his arcade puzzle “experiences”; what makes his games unique, in other words, are not the games on their own, but their complete audio-visual forms, co-existing with the mechanical aspects of the games to create something euphoric and transcending. Lumines is not that enticing without the audio-visual aspects; the audio-visual aspects are not that great without the gameplay; together, they make one of the most addictive, relaxing, and satisfying “experiences” I’ve had with games. A few things are as satisfying as nailing a 12x combo in Lumines, or planning ahead of the line and having it go through according to plan; a few things are as relaxing as setting a playlist of your favorite skins and going through them without worrying about scores or unlocking new stuff; a few games can make hours feel like minutes, both for your mind and body.
Even beyond the many faults and frustrating decisions of Lumines (at least in the Remastered edition), like the long loading screens, no quick restart option, no way to unlock further skins beyond replaying the set order of Challenge mode, no free play mode, no reason to interact with the various modes beyond Challenge, some of the skins not being as easy to read as others, some of the tracks not having the same quality as others (basically everything beyond Shinin’ and Shake yo body, are not that great), not being able to use the analog sticks for moving the blocks, and sometimes frame rate drops or weird inconsistencies with the control will screw up your timing and thought process; come to think of it, there’s a lot wrong with Lumines.
But, if there aren’t any flaws or purposeful decisions that you either love or hate, then there isn’t any relatability to the product; it’s perfect and it stops being challenging or speaking to your sensibilities in a personal way. Take the last two Rockstar games: GTAV is not flawless in any sense, but the core sandbox game is just the refined version of previous Rockstar games core sandbox—better in most ways, but not really challenging or driving the genre forward in any meaningful way. Red Dead 2 is anything but that; it made people loathe it, and for the same reasons it made people like me hail it as the game of a generation.
Lumines may not have the same responses or fall into the same conversation, but whatever faults it has, fade into the background, silenced by Shinin’, cancelled out by the bright and cheerful colors, willingly cast away from a very happy gamer. Even though I spent the last 800 words trying to convey how much I love this game, there’s really only one thing that should be said about Lumines: You should play Lumines.