While there are an endless number of video games that have the emotional depth of a puddle, asking you to slash, bash, blast and button mash through enemies from beginning to end, there are just as many nowadays that tackle real-world issues in a mature way, designed to make you think and, more importantly, feel. Lost Words: Beyond the Page is a light puzzle platformer that fits that second mould by exploring several complex emotional topics from the perspective of a young girl, all while trying to keep gameplay interesting with a unique mechanic. The narrative deserves praise, but the actual platforming grows tedious fast, sullying the overall package.
Beginning the game, you’re introduced to Izzy, a lively young girl with aspirations of becoming a writer. Her first step is to jot down her thoughts in a journal and that’s where you come in. As Izzy introduces herself to the journal, a hand-drawn girl will appear at the top of the page, controlled by the player. Using the freshly written words as platforms, you make your way from one side of the book to the other, leaving through a tear that will send you to the next page.
There are moments of beauty to be seen in the journal
Certain words are coloured differently, written in gel pen no doubt, and react once touched. From making illustrations appear to changing the structure of a sentence, they help guide you through the pages. Occasionally you’ll be required to grab a word with a small cursor controlled by the left stick in order to fill in a blank like Izzy is brainstorming to try and find the perfect phrase. Other times you’ll grab a word-like doodle, dragging it across the page to create small drawings that can be used as platforms. Both interactions are fairly straight forward, but they’re also pretty whimsical, which matches the context nicely.
After receiving some sage from her Nan, Izzy cracks on with penning her own fantasy story. After choosing the name and hair colour of the story’s protagonist out of a few options, you’re transported into the fictional world of Estoria, taking control of the central character (I chose the name Robyn). In Estoria, Robyn is a word wizard, able to perform magic by using phrases that she has written down in a mystical tome. These magic words appear and disappear, ensuring that you have exactly what you need at any given time. You’ll come across words such as rise (for raising platforms), break (for clearing obstacles) and repair (for…repairing). As a word wizard, you will travel through a number of lands in search of a dragon that attacked your village.
Estoria has its moments, but it doesn’t quite hit the mark for me
The word mechanic is creative, I’ll give it that, but it’s also a one-note trick that becomes old almost immediately. Not only is the action of opening the book, grabbing a word and dragging it across the screen to where you need it a bit clumsy, but the way in which you use the words never really changes. A crumbling wall in your path that needs breaking, a moving platform that needs lifting, every time you’re required to use the book it feels needless, as though it was included just so you have something to do other than walk and jump.
Jumping back and forth between the journal and Estoria, you’ll quickly realise that Izzy’s fictitious creation is her coping mechanism as she deals with a very trying time in her life. As her grandmother (to whom she is quite close and actually idolises) falls ill, Izzy becomes confused and irate with the unchangeable issues hurtling towards her. Her writing progressively becomes more and more dreary, and so too does her voice, portraying an all too real feeling of sadness and isolation. Her journal entries aren’t the only telltale sign of unhappiness either, as her protagonist begins to display signs of anger, frustration and guilt as Izzy does, though she expresses it in a way that Izzy isn’t able to in the real world. The gameplay might not do much to inspire, but Izzy’s story is well-written and told in a convincing, genuine way.
Certain moments hit really hard in an emotional sense
The pages of Izzy’s journal are often home to some beautiful sketches and imagery and you might hope that the fantasy world is the same, but the environments don’t quite hit the mark. Combined with a framerate that refuses to stay put, the storybook portion of Lost Words became a bit of a chore at times. When using word magic, the cursor (which takes the form of a firefly) jitters around if you move the character, making things more frustrating than they should be. I will say that the voicework for Izzy is great though, as you could hear the emotion in her voice as she narrated her journal entries.
Thought-provoking stories can definitely be told through video games without a bunch of added bells and whistles; walking sims have proven that time and time again. Unfortunately, if bells and whistles are added to a narrative-heavy game, they can detract from the story if they aren’t done right and that’s exactly what’s happened here. Lost Words has a genuine story to tell, but its core gameplay does a lot to stand in the way. The ideas here are admirable, but instead of adding to the experience, the word mechanic does damage to an otherwise endearing experience.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch // Review code supplied by publisher
- Sketchbook Games
- Modus Games
- PS4 / Xbox One / Switch / PC
- April 6, 2021