This week, I played an imaginative game called Lost Words: Beyond The Page that took me off my feet. It takes you on an enchanting yet emotional journey through a writer’s grief. The developer is bursting with creativity with its use of word-based mechanics, but sadly, the puzzles are a breeze to figure out. Maybe it’s for families… Anyway, I enjoyed the game thoroughly as it features a beautiful storybook-like design that charmed me and a narrative that tugged at my heartstrings.
Lost Words: Beyond The Page is a puzzle platformer that revolves around a writer named Izzy struggling with grief over a loved one. As the writer, you are creating an epic fantasy story that your family would be proud of, and as you go along, you can formulate the character you want through multiple choices. You can change the name of the character, the color of her clothing, why she’s loved by her home village, and her decisions throughout the game. Will you be cruel or will you be loving? That is up to you. Lost Words, despite its four-hour length, does offer a bunch of replayability.
It’s cool to see Grace using the word, “rise” to make lava bubble below a platform and “break” to cut down a tree to form a bridge. Lost Words constantly surprises you with what’s ahead, and it’s very intuitive as you drag the words around the screen. The puzzles are fairly easy, due to the lack of words available to you throughout. It didn’t take me a long time to figure out what I had to do, so Lost Words: Beyond The Page would be perfect with a young family member.
A major section of the game, however, revolves around the journal that the writer uses to let out her emotions, feelings, and memories onto the page. In a similar fashion to the indie darling Florence, Lost Words has you interact with the pages to reveal more about the story. Without spoiling anything, dragging certain words around changes up the scene. This is used in an effective manner as they are established to create an immense emotional response with the player and evoke how the writer Izzy really feels about her life and doubt about her family.
These journal segments, like the gameplay scenarios, constantly surprise you with animated backgrounds, gorgeous illustrations, and artistic touches that show the emotional imbalance of the writer. It’s absolutely gorgeous. However, they do drag a little too long. These playable scenes do a great job of building up the relationship of the gran and the writer, but they outstay their welcome a tad as you’re not challenged by the platforming segments and the puzzles are easy to understand. The ending level, in particular, dug its heels in far too much, as it went through familiar landscapes and left me urging to face the dragon at the end. If the gameplay became somewhat more challenging as the game progressed, it would have kept my interest much longer. However, it just stays at a dull, yet comfortable level of challenge that doesn’t throw you off at all.
Lost Words is like diving into a Winnie The Pooh adventure. As Grace moves along the 2.5D world, words exclaim around her, showing her excitement and doubts. One particular example is Grace saying wahoo when she slides down a hill and the exclamation is shown in the background. You can’t help but smile at that. The environments are beautiful and imaginative, pulling you into this young girl’s fictional land of Estoria.
The visuals are bright and vibrant, but during dark scenes, the developer effectively uses shadows and darkness to create the right mood. The lighting is especially lovely. One example is seeing shadows of tree branches on Grace as she moves up a lift. It’s a nice touch that helps you dive further into the world that Sketchbook Games has created.
Furthermore, the writing by Rhianna Pratchett (known for her work on the Tomb Raider series) is superb as you feel connected to the writer and her struggles through inventive storytelling use of the journal and gameplay. The writer leaves little side notes to herself in the journal, letting us into her brain, and the script itself is wonderfully charming through and through. We really get an idea of how important the gran is to the protagonist and how that reflects within the storytelling of the writer’s book. The ways the gameplay and the story are intertwined make this a narrative that only a video game can tell. Just make sure to collect all the fireflies to experience the full ending.
On the other hand, the voice acting by the protagonist leaves a little to be desired. She does a great job with the more somber scenes, but I don’t believe her when she’s supposed to sound angry. When she says she wanted to scream in the game, I feel like the actress needed to go to a darker place rather than putting a sweet tone to it.
In addition, the music cut off multiple times during my playthrough, killing the mood Lost Words was trying to give me. After a few failures like jumping into the lava a couple of moments, the music completely cut off and left the game in a hollow state. I was left perplexed whether or not I should restart the game or if it was on purpose at points.
Lost Words: Beyond The Page truly shows what you can do in the gaming medium. The interactive format lends itself well to this enchanting tale about grief and how to move forward. The clever game design with the use of words and the imaginative flair that the developer has added to its worlds and the journal make this worth checking out, especially if you’re a parent playing with their child. It’s just too bad how little of a challenge the game presents to the player and that some of the audio work left a little to be desired.
Lost Words: Beyond The Page will be out for consoles and PC on April 6th. If you’re on the Google Stadia platform, you can play the game right now.
A review code was provided by Modus Games