Lumines is a block-dropping game that seems at first similar to Columns and Tetris. The game is made up of a 16×10 grid playing field. A sequence of 2×2 blocks varying between two colors fall from the top of the playing field. When part of a falling block hits an obstruction, the remaining portion will split off and continue to fall. A vertical "Time Line" sweeps through the playing field from left to right. When a group of 2×2 blocks of the same color is created on the playing field, it creates a "colored square". When the Time Line passes through it, the colored square will disappear and points are added to the player's overall score. If the colored square is created in the middle of the Time Line, the Time Line will only take half of the colored square and no points will be awarded. Certain blocks with gems are known as "special blocks" and if are used to create colored squares, they will allow all individual adjacent blocks of the same color to be eliminate by the Time Line. In some games in the series, the special block is replaced with the "chain block", which connects to all adjacent blocks, regardless if a square is created.
The games feature background skins, which change the appearance of the visuals and blocks, and contain a different music track and sound effects. Skins are unlocked by progressing through the different game modes. Skins have different Time Line speeds, depending on the track's tempo. This can affect the gameplay; faster Time Lines make it more difficult to create large combos, and slower Time Lines may cause the playing field to fill while waiting for the Time Line to erase squares.
The objective is to rotate and align the blocks in such a way as to create colored squares. Increasing score multipliers are earned by repeatedly clearing 3~4 squares (depending on the game) on consecutive Time Line sweeps. Score bonuses are also awarded by reducing all remaining tiles to one single color or for removing all non-active tiles from the screen altogether. Multiple colored squares of the same color can be shared between a single geometric shape. For example, if one should get a 2x3 area of matching blocks, the middle portion will "share" itself with both the left and right halves and create two colored squares. The player loses when the blocks pile up to the top of the grid.