With all of the prelaunch hype touting the power of the PSP, few would have guessed that the handheld's best game would be a puzzle game; but that's just what happened. Q Entertainment didn't take any chances with the original's formula in the sequel and instead focused on adding more of everything--skins, music, and play modes. Lumines II is a game that feels fresh for the first few hours, but once the newness of the music wears off, it's pretty much the same as Lumines. It's still one of the best puzzle games of the year, but it's hard not to wish that the game played at least somewhat differently.
Anyone who played the original game will easily be able to pick up where they left off, but for those who missed out on the original, here's the gist. Colored boxes that are made up of four smaller squares drop from the top of the screen--they can be one solid color or have another color mixed in. It's your job to spin and move blocks to create a single-colored, two-by-two (or larger) block. The blocks are then erased by a vertical bar called the timeline, which sweeps across the screen from left to right in time with the music. The only "special" piece is a flashing square that when used as part of a completed block erases every like-colored square that's chained to that block. And it's game over when the blocks reach the top of the screen. The basic concept is simple, but there's a fair amount of depth to the game, especially if you're aiming for a high score. Big points are earned by adding like-colored squares onto a box that's set to disappear to make combos. Having only one color on the screen at a time earns you a small bonus, while having a completely empty play field nets you 10,000 extra points. A video tutorial and a series of tips help make the game accessible to newcomers, and a new play history grades your ability and details your progress as well as how many hours you've spent playing.
All of the single-player modes from the original game have returned, and other than time attack, each has received at least a minor facelift. You still unlock skins (new music and pieces) by playing through challenge mode, and as was the case last time, the objective is simply to get the highest score (which is no longer capped at 999,999) and play for as long as possible. Challenge mode has been broken into three classes of escalating difficulty (a fourth challenge unlocks when you beat the first three), but other than having different unlockable skins, there wasn't any noticeable difference in the difficulty from one mode to the next. It can still take hours to finish a game in challenge mode, but there are a number of ways to enjoy Lumines II if you've only got a few minutes to spare.
Mission mode is a series of 50 challenges of escalating difficulty. These timed objectives range from clearing the entire screen in a set number of moves to clearing a certain amount of blocks to filling the entire screen with blocks (it's harder than you think). Mission mode is a nice addition, but the difficulty curve is uneven. You'll breeze through a dozen levels, beating many of them in less than 10 seconds, and then find yourself suddenly stuck. Once you manage to beat the level, it's smooth sailing again--until the next random, superchallenging one. Puzzle mode plays just as it did in the first game, though it has been expanded to include more than 100 puzzles. In puzzle mode, you're shown a picture and given a time limit before your game starts, and you must replicate that pattern in-game. It's both challenging and fun to manipulate the pieces in an effort to make apples, flamingos, airplanes, fountains, snakes, and more. Versus mode returns mostly untouched, though its difficulty appears to have been balanced so that it's friendlier to beginners. In versus CPU mode, the screen is split in half, and whoever clears blocks the fastest gradually gains control of the other part of the screen. The end goal is to take over the entire screen. Duel mode is the same as versus CPU mode, but it's played against another person via ad hoc. Players will need their own copy to play duel mode, but it's possible to send a demo to a friend using the game-sharing feature. You can create custom playlists of skins and even share them wirelessly to another PSP.