Title: Lost Words: Beyond the Page
Developer: Sketchbook Games, Fourth State
Publishers: Modus Games
Platforms: Nintendo Switch (reviewed on), PlayStation 4, Google Stadia, PC, Xbox One
Release Date: April 6, 2021
From the minute Lost Words: Beyond the Page blipped across my radar, I knew I had to play it. If you haven’t seen a trailer for it, here’s your chance before we get to the nuts and bolts of the review.
In the game, play as a young girl who feels inspired to write in a journal gifted to her by her gran, an awesome elderly woman who teachers her all about how awesome science can be as a former marine biologist. As she writes and learns to develop a story, she encounters hardships that she documents in her journal.
From a gameplay standpoint, this splits the game into two worlds.
There are stages that play in a journal, where you control the young girl as she talks about what is going on in her life and trying to find words to describe her experiences. These play out on paper as you control her using the words as platforms and trying to collect dots that help her describe her feelings.
As you can see from the gameplay above, the pages can suddenly become filled with vibrant watercolor landscapes and gorgeous visuals such as the world being turned upside down, all while being masterfully voiced by Sidonie Maria Sakalis.
When it’s time for her to work on her story, the game then becomes full screen as you enter a gorgeously rendered fantasy realm. Every word your character says becomes written letters, visible in the air around her. Sometimes you’ll ever encounter words of power that when dragged over an object will alter it. Dragging the word “repair” over a bridge will do just that. If someone is trapped under something, maybe the word “lift” will help get them out. It’s a really clever gameplay mechanic.
As the young girl encounters troubles in her life — which I will not spoil — the story starts to change. Entering the world as her life becomes difficult will find the city under siege by a dragon. She will find herself looking for things that are lost. It’s an incredibly powerful metaphor that you get to live out with her.
A game that focuses on someone discovering writing while also struggling to find their own words to describe their feelings is an amazingly lofty goal that would make any writer sweat bullets. Luckily, the game is in good hands thanks to the astounding work by writing royalty Rhianna Pratchett.
In addition to being the daughter of acclaimed fantasy writer Terry Pratchett, Rhianna’s career absolutely holds up on her own as being the writer of some of my favorite game stories of recent history, such as Heavenly Sword, the Tomb Raider reboots, Bioshock Infinite, Prince of Persia, and the criminally, CRIMINALLY underrated original Mirror’s Edge.
She wrote the book on fantastic literary experiences in games, and I mean that slightly literally. Game Writing: Narrative Skills for Videogames, a book I had to read in college whilst getting my writing degree, featured her contributions to it.
If ever there was a writer qualified to write a game about someone whose words generate fantastic worlds in front of your eyes, I could think of no one better. Our home literally keeps a PS3 plugged in mostly for Mirror’s Edge and Heavenly Sword, two games that have never gotten old for me.
Outside of the story, the gameplay itself is pretty simple. It relies on mostly basic platforming and some light puzzle-solving for the majority of it. The game’s sole challenge comes from seeing through your own misty eyes as you handle the hardship your character faces in the real world.
I did encounter some bugs while playing but was told this was due to it being an early build of the game and that they would be patched out at launch. Even if you do experience some bugs, the game auto-saves constantly so you wouldn’t lose too much progress reverting back. This is a remarkably small price to pay for such an amazing narrative trip.