Lost and Found
At the risk of overselling it, Lost Words: Beyond the Page is one of the most engaging narratives I’ve seen from a video game. Developed by Sketchbook Games and written by former Tomb Raider writer Rhianna Pratchett, this unique puzzle platformer tells a story of family, loss and moving on. Combined with fun gameplay, great art, and fantastic music, Lost Words is a nearly perfect narrative adventure.
Lost Words puts players in the shoes, or at least pen, of a young girl named Izzi. An aspiring writer, the game begins after her grandmother gifts her a journal. This is the first layer of the narrative, where Izzy recounts the events of her life on the page. The second layer takes place inside the fantasy story that Izzy is writing. When tragedy unsettles Izzy’s life, she pours her thoughts and emotions into the page.
Black and White
In the Journal layer, players control an animated doodle version of Izzie. As real Izzie writes or draws in her journal, the words and pictures form platforms for doodle Izzie to jump between. Players can rearrange words and pictures to create new platforms or solve puzzles. For example, using the word “unlock” to open a drawing of a gate. There is also a good amount of variety in the puzzles, though none are particularly challenging. I had fun, but it’s worth remembering that Lost Words is a platformer more than a puzzle game.
The Journal story is well-written and relatable, seeing Izzy going through the stages of grief after a sudden personal tragedy. I don’t know enough about Rhianna Pratchett’s personal life that I feel comfortable playing armchair psychoanalyst. However, Lost Words feels like it’s heavily autobiographical. The music, narration and artwork help its emotional storytelling. The art in question is a mix of pen drawings and watercolors, with the stylized scenes helping to capture Izzy’s changing emotional states.
The journal layer is also where players make certain decisions about Izzie’s fictional story. Players choose from the names Grace, Georgia or Robyn, as well as three appearances and three personalities. Later on, players will also change the plot, such as other characters’ motivations and even parts of the scenery. None of these have too big of an effect on how the story progresses, but I still appreciated how its last players feel like they have an active role in shaping the story.
Finding the Words
Meanwhile, most of the game takes place in Izzy’s story, set in the fantasy land of Estoria. Mostly eschewing the pens and paints, Lost Words depicts Estoria with vibrant and colorful 3D models. The Protagonist, who I called Robyn, lives in an idyllic treetop village protected by magical fireflies. As the new Firefly Guardian, it falls on her to protect her people and the Fireflies they depend on. However, when a dragon steals the Fireflies, she must embark on a quest to save her home and all of Estoria.
To complete this quest, Robyn’s mentor gives her a book to store magic words. Unlike the Journal segments, Izzy’s narration has no physical presence in the world of Estoria. However, occasionally, players can pick out a word and add it to Robyn’s book. For example, Izzy might say something is “beyond repair,” adding Repair to Robyn’s spell book.
Lost Words players select a word from Robyn’s spell book, then drag it over the object they want to use it on. Repair, for example, can restore a ruined bridge, while Rise can lift specific environmental objects. Some puzzles even combine words, such as using Repair to restore a damaged crane and then Rise to lift the platform it is holding. Some words come and go, but a few basic ones generally stick around.
Beyond the Page
However, what makes Lost Words stand out is how the Journal and Estoria stories interact. The player can see how the events in Izzy’s life affect her and how that influences writing. This gives the player a very deep connection with Izzy, and the games, music, art and voicework do a fantastic job of conveying her emotions.
Now, the Android version of Lost Words has a few issues. The platforming is sometimes a bit finicky, and it’s easy to permanently lock yourself out of some collectibles. However, there was also a recurring bug where the game didn’t acknowledge some of my choices. For example, the game asks players to pick Robyn’s motivations early on. You can choose between “revenge,” “knowledge,” and “finding the Fireflies,” but the game only acknowledges the third choice.
Granted, it’s not as if one weird bug seriously diminished my enthusiasm for Lost Words: Beyond the Page. It’s a fantastic and very moving game, and players can try the first two Chapters for free. So, if Lost Words sounds like something you might enjoy, I strongly recommend it.
Is it Hardcore?
Lost Words: Beyond the Page is a fantastic story-driven puzzle platformer whose great art, story and music are only marginally let down by a few bugs.