Remember when you first played Lumines? And it was a bit like Tetris but different - a bit like Tetris but horizontal. And so it took you a while to adjust, right? It took you a while to think horizontally. Remember how daunting it seemed? Remember when you simply couldn't imagine getting to the next skin, let alone the one after that? But then you went on to unlock all the skins and achieve astronomically high-scores, right? Maybe you've forgotten.
Maybe you're so good at Lumines now that you've forgotten how long it took you to become good enough to unlock all the skins and rack up insanely high scores. Try to remember it. Multiply it by another insanely high number. That's probably the best approximation of where you'll be with Gunpey-R, the latest PSP puzzler from Tetsuya Mizuguchi's music-game production line, Q Entertainment.
Gunpey-R is a bit like Q Entertainment's previous titles Lumines and Every Extend Extra, and it's very, very hard. It takes an existing game, which appeared on Bandai's now-defunct Wonderswan handheld and gives it the Mizuguchi musical skin treatment to enhance its already addictive quirky puzzle mechanics. And, as a brief aside, the game takes its name from Gunpei Yokoi, the legendary Nintendo employee responsible for creating the Game & Watch series, the Game Boy, and, shortly before his death, the Wonderswan.
The object of the game is to connect a line from one side of a 10x5 column to the other by joining up different line fragments that appear at the bottom of the column (There are four different line fragments, and they're shaped like this: \, /, \/, /\). In order to connect line fragments together, the game allows you to switch any two vertically adjacent squares - so if they contain line fragments the fragments swap places. Connecting a line pauses the inexorable advance of the line fragments up the screen, allowing you to add more fragments to make your line longer (and higher-scoring) or to frantically move line fragments towards the bottom of the screen - because as soon as any line fragment reaches the top, it's game over. A bit like Tetris or Lumines, but different.
And like Tetris or Lumines (or Every Extend Extra for that matter) it's an in-the-zone game which forces you to surrender your consciousness to the procession of lines for just one more go in a bid to beat your highest score. And as with Q Entertainment's other puzzle games the trippy visuals and morphing soundscapes make it easier for you to get in the zone and easier for you to stay there. And yeah, it's pretty hard.
Which, on the upside, means there's hours of entertainment till you bust it open. But, on the downside, if you haven't got the stamina, you might get bored before you get that far - because it takes a while to workout what you're doing, and even when you've worked it out, it'll take you an even longer while to be able to unlock some of the later skins.
Curiously, though, in spite of all those hours of entertainment, Gunpey-R feels stripped down. After the multitude of modes offered by Lumines II, the extras in Gunpey feel a little bit tacked on, and none of them are for the faint-hearted. One mode sees the playing area increased to a 10x10 grid, for example (making the game harder). Or there's a mode in which you play two games simultaneously, swapping between the two games by hitting the triggers (making the game harder). And there's a mode in which the line fragments don't drop down the screen after you've connected a line (making the game harder).
It's a shame that some of the extra modes from the Wonderswan original haven't made it across to the PSP - both the puzzle mode and story mode are perfectly suited to portability but aren't to be found on the PSP. Which means that, as with Lumines, Gunpey-R's biggest flaw is the amount of time it takes to play it. There are time-attack modes for quick bursts of play, but Gunpey-R doesn't seem as well-suited to them as Lumines.
Still, if you've got the stamina, that's not much of a problem. After all, you remember what it was like when you finally got that final skin on Lumines, right? That sense of achievement? Snapping out of your glazed-eye reverie to find you've added a few points to the high-score table. Well Gunpey-R's sort of like that. Not quite as good. But it's almost as good, and that's a pretty significant achievement after all.