Lost Words: Beyond the Page combines a striking visual style with side-scrolling action and a unique setting: the pages of a young girl’s diary.
Lost Words: Beyond the Page takes the platforming genre in new and unexpected places with a startling mix of beautiful art, unique gameplay, and resonant storytelling. The side-scrolling platformer is one of the most classic genres in all of gaming. From Super Mario Bros. to VVVVVV and Super Meat Boy, the side-scroller is tried-and-true, but new games are constantly pushing the boundaries of expectation, delivering new and innovative experiences to challenge and entertain players, time and time again.
At an event for publisher Modus Games, we sat down with Mark Backler of Sketchbook Games and composer David Housden (Thomas Was Alone), who guided us through a hands-off demo of Lost Words, which promises to stand out as a truly unique experience in the endless sea of 2D platformers.
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Lost Words is set entirely within the pages of a journal written by Izzy, a young girl. The player avatar is a hand-drawn figure, and the words themselves serve as the platforms players must jump across to reach the goal and flip to the next page. The entire story is narrated in real time as players progress through the pages, revealing the story of Izzy dealing with the impending death of her grandmother. The pages themselves feature beautiful, hand-drawn artwork which adds a personal, believable touch to the world of the journal.
In addition to chronicling her exploits in the real world, Izzy is also writing a fictional story within her journal, and the game frequently expands beyond the literal pages to allow players to explore the story as it is written. The gameplay in these sections in fundamentally the same – screen scrolling notwithstanding – but the visuals are really expanded upon with dense foliage and rolling hills, the product of Izzy’s ambitious imagination.
Lost Words makes tremendous use of its peculiar setting; it’s not just a visual gimmick, but the entire crux of the game. In addition to keyboard controls for navigation, Backler used the mouse to click on keywords in the environment and move them around the level, creating platforms for Izzy to traverse, or selecting from multiple choices while creating Izzy’s storybook fantasy; some of these decisions are purely for flavor, like naming Izzy’s protagonist (we went with “Grace”) or choosing the color of her dress (we went with “purple”), but we were told that others, like Grace’s disposition (we chose “kind”), can have a profound impact on how the story plays out. On home consoles, players will use the right analog stick to reach and grab words from the environment.
The storyline in Lost Words is written by Rhianna Pratchett (Tomb Raider, Mirror’s Edge), who imbues the game with a very natural voice. The real-time narration never felt trite or superfluous; though we only saw a 15-minute demo, the narrative momentum was palpable, and we were devastated when young Izzy shared in her journal that she learned of her grandmother’s stroke. The strong voice acting definitely helped in this regard. Narrative-wise, Lost Words aims to be an honest and emotional commentary of grief and familial love.
Lost Words: Beyond the Page has a purposeful story, innovative gameplay, and an impressive visual style. It boasts the talents of award-winning composer David Housden, who described his work on the game as “deeply personal.” All the pieces are in place for Lost Words to be the one of 2019’s premier indie darlings. We’ll find out for sure later this year when Lost Words launches on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. Backler said a Switch version is definitely on the table, but nothing has been officially announced yet for Nintendo’s console/handheld hybrid.
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