Lumines II wisely commits to walking the trail of enhancement rather than reinvention, refusing to fix what wasn't broken about its predecessor. On the other hand, it knows it had better offer something shiny and new if fans of the original are to find a reason to pick it up. This sequel is as much a companion to the original as a replacement, and just as much of a must-have, if not more.
Gameplay still revolves around two-tone falling blocks - each made up of four smaller blocks - and your efforts to group the colors together, but each quadrant can contain with an animated pattern as easily as a color now, leading to considerably more variation between skins. New music videos that churn away in the background likewise serve as cunning distractions. As a result, maintaining concentration is more challenging than ever. Create blocks of like-colored squares, and the passing timeline will remove them from play and reward you with bonus points. Between the simple but absorbing play, the gyrating graphics, and the thumping music, Lumines II is almost hypnotic in its appeal.
The basic interface will look familiar to anyone that's downloaded Lumines Live! for the Xbox 360, but rest assured there's no cheesy microtransaction extortion to contend with here. $30 gets you the whole kit, from forty puzzle boards that progress from a simple cross to an impossible tulip shape, to the fifteen simple mission boards. The challenging "versus CPU" mode is back, with new opponents and some remixed surprise visits by old conquests, but this time you can choose to continue endlessly rather than starting from scratch. Time trials still come in predictable increments, but you can save your minute-long game replays to a memory stick, and trade your best performance with friends.
Most players will probably spend the vast majority of their time facing off against human opponents via the Ad Hoc wireless mode, or playing one of the excellent tiered difficulty challenge tracks, but that's missing out. By far the coolest new addition is the sequencer mode, which lets closet musicians create their own simple electronic tunes for use in the game. Depending on your passion for music, this mode alone could mean the end of all your free time. Simply move your cursor across a piano roll of musical notes and percussion sound effects, and place cues of varying strengths. It's ridiculously fun, and could easily be expanded into a full-fledged sample-based musician's tool.
About the only complaints to level against Lumines II, apart from the absence of wishlist features like downloadable skins and an Infrastructure multiplayer mode, are the brief pauses in play as new videos are loaded, and subjective bitching about the choice of tunes. Getting thrown off your rhythm is kind of a pain, and you're guaranteed to violently loathe at least one song, but even these gripes could be chalked up to the computer's quest to tweak your concentration. On the road, or at home in bed, Lumines II is the top of the PSP's puzzler pops. If you're looking for a game to keep you busy on a long plane ride, this is it.