Game name: Lost Words: Beyond the Page
Release date: April 6, 2021
Available on: Steam
Developer: Sketchbook Games
Publisher: Modus Games
Lost Words: Beyond the Page is a game of two worlds, in more than one way. We play as a young lady who’s literally taking her first steps as a writer, as she walks on the words she’s written on her journal, occasionally lifting some and placing them on different parts of the page in order to reach special items or progress towards a rip in the paper which will let her switch pages. Of course, as all good writers do, she will soon create a completely new world and drag the player into it, moving from white pages (with occasional coloring) to a fully realized fantasy scenario that looks like it came out of a painting. It’s a very neat trick, and the game repeats it over time without ever actually making it feel tiresome, something that I must commend the developers on, as when it comes to that kind of mechanic, it’s very easy to have too much of a good thing.
Gameplay-wise, Lost Words is relatively simple, and both “journal mode” and “fantasy world” mode control similarly, though I feel that there is a floatiness inherent to our playable character that can be forgiven in book mode, but ends up getting on the player’s nerves after a while when adventuring through the “standard” levels. Both on book and fantasy modes, we control Izzy (our player character) with the left analog stick and command a helpful firefly with the right one. Izzy can run, crawl, jump, push/drag blocks and mantle over objects, and the firefly can do different things depending on which area of the game we are currently experiencing. On book mode, it can pick up and re-order certain special words, placing them as platforms, or using them to complete a sentence. This mechanic is pretty useful and well executed (our character’s appearance can be customized this way, for instance, choosing words and slotting them in the right place). On fantasy land mode, the firefly can pick up special words once again, but this time we can also save some of them on a magic book and use them again later. These words serve the same function as the ones we talked about earlier (progressing through the game world) but the way they work is often different, as they alter certain areas that can be affected by them. Sadly, I felt that there wasn’t enough variety for the magic words, and we’ll end up reusing them over and over again because there’s only six to be found over the course of the whole adventure.
Aside from the platforming and light puzzle solving there isn’t much else to do, as the game doesn’t feature combat sections or anything of the sort. At the same time, I feel that this makes it a perfect candidate for folks who have kids, as the story told during our journey will pull at the strings of anyone who takes their time to sit down in front of the PC/TV and play, and the lack of violent situations is a welcome change from the majority of the popular games available in the market right now. The difficulty level of both the platforming segments and the puzzles that block Izzy’s path sits on the lower side of the scale, and since there isn’t any real punishment for failure, even newcomers to gaming can enjoy Lost Words without too much to worry about.
Of course, this low level of difficulty will certainly present a different sort of challenge to other players, as the game isn’t overly short (I beat it in a bit over four hours according to Steam’s playtime tracker) and we’ll be doing pretty much the same things over and over again for the duration of the adventure. Does that mean it’s not an enjoyable use of your time? I don’t quite think so. Going back to the beginning of this review, I said that Lost Words: Beyond the Page is a game of two worlds, and while that definition applies to its gameplay, I feel that it also perfectly fits the divide that exists between the playable content and the storytelling. Without going into spoilers, I believe that this is the sort of game that’s worth experiencing (probably only one time though, as there isn’t any real incentive for a replay, sadly). It helps that the voice actress who brings Izzy to life did an excellent job and perfectly conveys the emotions that rush through her character’s heart as the adventure plays out (amusingly, at the start of the game I wasn’t exactly sold on her performance as I thought her acting was a bit wooden, but that actually makes sense with the way Lost Words works, so I quickly found myself on a completely different boat).
The game’s art style also acts as a perfect companion to the story we’ll experience, as both gameplay modes feature striking (and distinct) art styles, with the book’s pages evolving and morphing as we traverse certain words or reach the next sentence in a thought, and the fantasy world looking and feeling like the vivid images we often create when a compelling tale transports our mind to a different land. As you might expect, the music helps to sell that idea quite a bit (and it’s readily available on the artist’s Bandcamp page).
Tech-wise I only have one issue to report, and it’s a weird one. For some strange reason, the game doesn’t seem to save full-screen/resolution settings when going from the main menu to gameplay and vice versa, so every time I fired it up it was in windowed mode and at 1080p resolution (I game on a 1440p monitor) and I had to load into the action, change the settings, play, and repeat for the next session. Other than that, I didn’t experience any other issues, as the game was stable as a rock for the duration of my playthrough and its performance was as solid as I expected from this kind of title.
Overall then, my thoughts on this adventure are somewhat mixed, but ultimately positive. Lost Words: Beyond the Page will not win any gameplay awards, but its story is genuinely touching and worth experiencing. This is the kind of game that stays in your mind for a while in spite of its lack of replayability or challenge, and I feel that can be something we all might need in these uncertain times.
8/10 (Very good)