Lumines: Electronic Symphony preview: Vita's got a pulse

Sparkles!
Seven years ago, PlayStation Portable (or PSP) and Lumines were essentially synonymous. If you had a PSP, it was because of Lumines. It may not have been reason enough to spend $250 for Sony's then unestablished handheld but, for any PSP owner, it was an essential part of their collection. I'm not prepared to say that Lumines: Electronic Symphony is reason enough to plunk down $250 (or more) for Sony's unestablished PlayStation Vita, but it's still fun for all the same reasons (and a few more).
%Gallery-133707% Functionally, Lumines: Electronic Symphony is the same Lumines that we all know and love. Players arrange blocks (two-by-two squares comprised randomly of two colors) into rectangular patterns as the beat marches relentlessly onward. Once the beat, delineated by a line moving from left to right, passes these rectangular formations, the blocks are vaporized. The remaining blocks drop down, possibly forming even more combos.

The biggest addition to the Vita version of the classic formula is the avatar meter. When starting the game, players choose an avatar much the same as they might choose a character in a fighting game. Different avatars have different abilities that are charged as blocks are cleared from the grid, though the only one available to me was the "chain block," which causes linked blocks of the same color to disappear.

Once the avatar meter is full, it can be activated by simply tapping the avatar icon on the screen. The meter is filled either by scoring points and by tapping the PS Vita's rear touchpad. The latter felt a bit gimmicky at first, though I can easily see it coming in handy when a full avatar meter means the difference between winning and losing.

Apart from offering up life-saving special blocks, the avatar meter also serves to add a refreshing carrot-and-stick feeling of progression to the game. It gave me another goal to strive toward, instead of just earning points to unlock the next track and skin (although that's still just as much fun as it ever was). It also adds a new layer of strategy to the Lumines formula, as I was able to plan combos ahead of time, knowing that I would soon be able to activate a chain block to create a massive cascade of points.

Electronic Symphony also adds other special blocks to the mix, though the only one Q? revealed to me was the "shuffle block," which does pretty much what you'd expect. When placed on the grid, the shuffle block will shuffle the colors in a particular cluster of blocks. While it might sound detrimental to Lumines pros, I was told that it could turn the tide when mismatched blocks get stacked too high. Still, the shuffle block can be dropped on an empty space if you'd rather not use it.

One other addition to Electronic Symphony: Continues. No longer will you be forced to start from the beginning when you're only a few points shy of reaching the next level, as players will have the option to continue after failing. Doing so will reset your score and deny you glory on the leaderboards but, sometimes it's worth it just to unlock the next track.

Speaking of tracks, Lumines: Electronic Symphony will focus on licensed music. Q? is only revealing two thus far, "Hey Boy Hey Girl" by the Chemical Brothers and "4am" by Kaskade, though "dozens" of tracks are promised for the final product. Oh, and I was told that there might be some DLC in the works that crosses over with Child of Eden, though nothing is final at this point.

Electronic Symphony will include local and ad-hoc multiplayer (though not 3G). It will also take advantage of the PS Vita's social features including Near and Activity, though Q? isn't revealing exactly how the features work just yet. Another feature unique to Electronic Symphony, touchscreen controls. The entire game can actually be played via the touchscreen, dragging blocks left, right or down and tapping the screen to rotate. Personally, I couldn't bring myself to abandon the precision of the D-pad, and conquering more difficult levels seems like it would be difficult, if not impossible.

Again, I can't say that Lumines is reason enough to pick up a Vita. Having said that, if you're already planning on snagging Sony's upcoming handheld, it's hard to imagine not pairing it with Lumines: Electronic Symphony. The game is slated to be released alongside the (still unannounced) western launch of the PS Vita.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.