LifeisXbox’s Lost Words: Beyond the Page review | When it was announced that Rhianna Pratchett was the writer of Lost Worlds I immediately kept both eyes on the project. Unfortunately, many players had to wait. Google snatched an exclusive agreement to release this on Stadia first. The daughter of Terry Pratchett isn’t a stranger in the gaming world, she delivered some excellent writing work with Overlord, Tomb Raider, Mirror’s Edge, and many others. Especially in the Overlord games I really loved her way of writing, which strongly reminded me of her father’s fantasy books. Enough about Rhianna, as Lost Words has a lot more going for it. This is the debut game from developer Sketchbook Games, raking up awards since it was announced and with reason! Publisher Modus Games can be happy! You could say that this game has two faces though, there is a distinct difference between the playable real-life story from Izzy in the form of a journal and an imaginative story created by Izzy that manifests in a simple 2D platformer. Both worlds are very creative but there is a big difference in quality, which hurts the overall experience.
We played Lost Words for five hours on Xbox Series X, this game is also available on Stadia, Playstation and Switch.
What we liked!
- Tissues ready, you’ll need them for Lost Words story | It’s all about Izzy, a girl that keeps a journal about her life and is writing a fantasy story about a heroine in Estoria. The hero of Izzy is her grandmother, her inspiration to become a writer. In her fantasy story you’ll have to face a mighty dragon who destroyed the hometown of Estoria’s playable character. While writing this story her actual life starts to break down and depression, anger and sadness become a big part of both stories. Seeing changes in the fantasy story of what happens in her real life is an interesting take for a game. This is a very minor spoiler as this happens in the very first minutes but things go wrong with her grandmother. Personally speaking, it was very hard for me to play these sections. I lived with my parents and my grandmother for over fifteen years and even writing this makes my eyes a bit watery. There’s this particular hospital section in the journal that was so familiar, as I experienced firsthand how it feels when someone is drifting away, not knowing who you are, and eventually turns your life upside down. An incredibly hard subject to add in a game story, and in such a creative way too… well-done devs.
- An over-the-moon writing performance | Here is where Rhianna Pratchett managed to create something where every single game journalist and player will compliment her for. The story and writing are exquisite, a striking and perfect accomplishment. From the timing of emotional words, interesting yet meaningful journals, and just how fluent the writing is.
- Izzy’s journal is a playable masterpiece | Platforming on Izzy’s thoughts is absolutely the highlight of Lost Words. Honestly, this is some of the best platforming I played on Xbox. It is so charming and full of unexpected interactive parts. As you unleash her emotions by walking over the sentences and get some additional information by grabbing asterisks. It features some stunning page designs and beautiful watercolor sketches, making it something I never experienced before. I can’t express enough how much creative brilliance has been used here, fantastic work for this debut game from Sketchbook Gaming.
- Charming visuals, great soundtrack and strong voice-acting | Everything really works together for giving the highest immersion possible. Environments from Estoria are pretty and range from a large selection of styles. Caves with lava, cold mountains, and colorful forests. Even the journal sections come to life with some amazing watercolored images and great visuals text touches. Izzy’s incredible voiced performance helps to lift an already great story and dialogue, speaking some of the lines and expressing the right emotions wasn’t easy but she did fabulous work. Music and sound are on par with the visuals, it knows when to be silent or when to play something emotional.
- Word-mechanic in both worlds | Sketchbook Games designed a clever mechanic that allows the player to pick up words that have a direct effect on gameplay. This shines more in the journal sections but works pretty neat in the second world too. For example, picking up the word ‘memory’ and wiping it over pictures will reveal them. Useable words or objects have a clear indicator in the journal, so you’ll never be lost on what to do. It works a bit differently in the other world. In Izzy’s created story the heroine has a book that you open with L2, here are fixed words that can help you progress. Words like break, lift, burn or repair. It works splendidly and is really fun but as I will explain in the ‘what we disliked section’ it is very simple too. It felt refreshing to play and I’m aware that Sketchbook Games didn’t reinvent the wheel here, as Scribblenauts has similar gameplay with even more creative mechanics.
- Estoria gameplay | Izzy’s real-life story (journal) is remarkably awesome but that’s not the case with the world from Izzy’s created heroine, Estoria. Two different games in one, which you’ll immediately notice in the screenshots. From a visual standpoint but also gameplay and story. The visually beautiful Estoria is a more polished version of a traditional Ratalaika platformer. With the exception of the word mechanics that make it a bit more unique to play. You’ll crawl, jump and walk from point A to B by regularly using the available words to break rocks so you can jump over fire, repair bridges, and so on. I really missed some of the more creative elements from the journal gameplay in this world. It fails to stand out between all the other platforming games and that surprised me considering how great the other part of Lost Words are. I’ve discussed this in length with another reviewer and we both agreed that the game would be a better experience if they just left out this Estoria part. Not an easy discussion as the colorful platforming is still fun and the story links with Izzy’s real-life struggles. Having only the journal sections might have become a bit repetitive and would significantly reduce the amount of playable content… Despite the somewhat disappointing parts of Estoria it is also important to mention that these parts aren’t boring or annoying to play. On the contrary, it is just a day and night difference with the quality, creativity, and fun from the journal sections. As if it was made by two different developers, hopefully, feedback that Sketchbook Games will keep in mind for their second project. What I did really like about the Estoria parts was the ability to create your own story a bit. Nothing Earth-shattering but small changes like choosing the favorite fruit from an NPC character or choosing the name of the playable character.
What we disliked
- The simplicity of Lost Words | Only one problem hurts both the journal and Estoria gameplay, more so in the Estoria parts. That’s the lack of any challenge while platforming or solving puzzles. Not every platformer should be Ori, Cuphead or Super Meat Boy but some more depth in problem-solving or a bit more tricky platforming sections would have been more than welcome. Even boss fights, if you could call them that are extremely easy and can be completed blindfolded. I was expecting to mix words together to solve puzzles but something like that never came to fruition.
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