PLATFORM: PC, PS4, SWITCH, XBOX ONE (REVIEWED) | RELEASE DATE: 6TH APRIL
Set between a fantasy world and the pages of a young girl's diary, Lost Words: Beyond the Page is a narrative-focused puzzle-platformer that follows a young girl, Isabelle, whose grandmother suddenly falls ill. Izzy's "real life" feelings play out across the pages of her diary, with sentences creating platforms for players to jump around. Disappearing into her own mind, she writes a story set in the fantasy / fairytale land of Estoria, where players leave the journal behind and travel through half a dozen levels that all tie in with Isabelle's real-world emotions.
Words are used to interact with the world and solve puzzles. In the diary, you'll have to pluck words off the page and wave them across a variety of drawings and doodles to make things happen, while in Estoria you're limited to five or six commands that are contained within a magic book. Everything's very intuitive and the words are simple and self-explanatory, and using words ties in beautifully with the idea that you're inhabiting a world that's being written while you play, but seasoned players are likely to find that the puzzles themselves aren't too taxing.
The story, written by Rhianna Pratchett (lead writer of 2013's Tomb Raider and its 2015 follow-up, Rise of...), touches on some pretty dark themes like grief, loss and depression, but also brings in plenty of positive things like acceptance and understanding. It's a fairly well-trodden path, but Lost Words navigates it skilfully and deals with its subjects in a way that very much makes the game more appropriate for younger players (as does the low difficulty and overall simplicity). The events that take place in Isabelle's family life quickly and very firmly tug at the heartstrings and, even though you pretty much know how things are going to pan out, it still manages to maintain an emotional connection all the way to the very end. Although, it has to be said that while Isabelle as a character is agreeable enough when telling the story of the incredibly warm fantasy world that she's created, she often comes across as obnoxious and bratty in real life, which can make her a little bit tricky to root for at times.
With lots of beautiful hand-drawn watercolour artwork, some creative ideas and a gentle and relaxing soundtrack courtesy of David Housden (Thomas Was Alone and 2020's Battletoads) and the Nashville Scoring Orchestra, Lost Words certainly has a lot going for it. If you've got a youngster in the house who's into books and storytelling and you're looking to introduce them to the world of gaming, this may well fit the bill perfectly. Its YA-oriented story and simple gameplay might be less enticing for more seasoned players, but people of any age who have lost loved ones will definitely find their eyes getting a bit watery more than once during their playthrough...