It’s true. I’ve seen the stats. Gamers are getting older. When many of us start gaming, the majority of our non-scholastic obligations involve cleaning dishes, mowing lawns, and making beds. If our parents allowed it, the rest of our time at home could go toward vanquishing Ganon, defeating the Mother Brain, making Bo Jackson run circles around chagrined siblings and friends, or even convincing ET to stretch his blocky little neck and float out of yet another cursèd pit. The gamers nodding their heads at such references simply can’t do that anymore, whether or not the itch for gaming has left them; inevitably, other obligations arise, children are born, employers get more demanding, the roof has a hole in it, and all while the dishes, lawns, and beds continue to call. It’s an overwhelming feeling for a while, one that demands sacrifices, and inevitably, attempts at immersive gaming experiences end in frustration as the “real world”‘s calls grow louder and louder.
Enter the casual game.
Casual gaming as we know it fairly definitively started with Microsoft Windows’ built-in Solitaire app, that notorious vacuum for corporate dollars, a timesink so notorious that it is rumored to be the reason behind the banning of games of any sort from federal government computers. Casual games then started showing up online in droves, ways for the last ones awake to find kindred spirits over a game of euchre. From there they moved to the portable arena (where they’d been bubbling for a while thanks to the incredible success of the original Gameboy’s Tetris), each puzzle game good for a quick thrill, easy to pick up on a bus or a plane, easy to put down when the game or the ride is over. And now, thanks largely to the Nintendo Wii’s huge and growing stereotype-busting audience for products like Wii Sports, Wii Play, WarioWare: Smooth Moves and even Rayman: Raving Rabbids, it’s become obvious that casual gaming is not just ready for, but utterly at home on the current generation of home consoles. As gamers have gotten older and busier, the desire for quick thrills to go with their expensive toys has increased, and the developers who have recognized that are now tapping a huge market for this sort of game.
Lumines, for its part, has been around a while. First appearing on the Sony PSP in 2004 (and finding its way to the Americas in ’05), it has since spawned a sequel complete with licensed music videos, a downloadable version on the Xbox Live service, and now Lumines Plus, the Playstation 2 version of the game. It seems that the devoted legions of followers that the first game spoke loud enough to be heard by Disney Interactive, who have somewhat unexpectedly found themselves behind one of the bigger puzzle franchises since the aforementioned Tetris craze.
Lumines Plus does a lot of things right as the console version of what was essentially a perfect portable release. For one, it’s budget-priced, which is absolutely essential to catch a market that’s probably not going to go for an $60 cheap thrill; they do call them “cheap” thrills for a reason, after all. Two, they didn’t change the formula that made the game great: colorful playing fields (“skins” in the parlance of Lumines), subtly-changing difficulty levels, and plenty of modes of play, including multi-player and puzzle (which basically amounts to shape-building) modes to be tackled by the Lumines-addicted who need thrills beyond those that the primary game can offer.
Perhaps most importantly, however, is that the gameplay of Lumines is such that it has appeal beyond the inital, “casual” draw of the puzzling. Sure, the mechanic is simple — two-colored 2×2 blocks fall from the sky as the player is challenged to create 2×2 blocks of like colors — but the strategy involved in building combos and keeping the pile of blocks from overwhelming the gamespace is near limitless. Put simply, Lumines is the sort of casual game that can attract a hardcore gamer, pushing it beyond the kid stuff of many of the Wii mini-game offerings into something a little deeper. Casual console games need that depth to justify purchase, as buying a game for a home console is succumbing to the idea that the game is something that is going to be worth spending hours with rather than the mere minutes necessary to enjoy a portable offering. Lumines is just frustrating enough to be rewarding every time you keep the board clear for long enough to tackle another skin, just simple enough to allow you to zone out while playing it. For a game so tailor-made for the portable experience, it’s just as perfect on a console.
Unfortunately, those who have already been indoctrinated to the Lumines experience won’t find all that much to draw them to Lumines Plus. Lumines Plus consists entirely of material that has already been released on another format, most of it from the original PSP Lumines, a little bit from Lumines II, and a few ports of the Xbox Live Arcade skins. Unless you absolutely need to see some of the original skins (including the ever-popular “Shinin'” skin, which actually begins the game) on a big screen, it’s going to be hard to convince you to drop even $20 on what’s basically a three-year-old game that you’ve already played.
Still, if you’re a Playstation 2 owner who has never experienced Lumines, you officially have no excuse. Take a break from beating on Colossi for a while and give Lumines Plus a spin. And be careful, make sure you have some time to spare — you may never want to stop.