Lost Words: Beyond the Page is one of those games that you know will be a incredible experience from the moment you lay your eyes on it. Not since my glowing review of Child of Light years ago has a game appealed so much to me on the strength of its unique visuals alone. Of course, actually seeing the game in action further cemented my interest.
The game stars a young girl named Izzy who’s incredibly close with her grandmother. Inspired by her grandmother’s advice, she decides to write a fantasy story that takes place in the world of Estoria. Unfortunately, tragedy strikes as her grandmother has a stroke and Izzy now must deal with the repercussions as she copes with her grief and loss.
Already this incredibly visceral and engaging plot, written by Rhianna Pratchett and based on her own experiences, is a head turner; that being said, the actual gameplay itself is the true draw. Gameplay is split between two sections: Izzy’s journal entries and the fantasy world Estoria she develops over the course of the game. During the journal areas, you control Izzy as she literally platforms across the sentences in each page to reach the torn exit tab.
Scattered throughout the pages are word puzzles in which you place words to complete sentences, rearrange words to create a new sentence, or move special words to create platforms for Izzy to jump. Certain words or pictures can interact with other images to activate special effects, such as a watering can being used on a plant to make it grow. Collecting the asterisks scattered about adds more information to each page.
The fantasy world controls like a traditional side-scrolling platformer, but keeps the theme of words holding power. Words that appear in the environment can interact with the hero and her world. These “spell words” are then saved in a spell book so they can be used later on. A good example is the word “rise,” which can be used to make stone columns rise from the ground and create platforms for the hero to step on.
Another cool mechanic is that choices made by the protagonist during the journal stages — such as her name, personality, and clothing color — influences Estoria’s story itself.
As Izzy’s real life happenings and events progress and become darker, this impacts how both the journal stages and Estoria are presented to the player. For instance, during the demonstration I viewed Izzy’s narration becomes halted and agonized once she finds out about her grandmother’s stroke. This is represented by the sentences in her journal literally collapsing in a jumble of words under her, causing Izzy’s avatar to fall down the page as well.
Accompanying each level is a beautifully orchestrated soundtrack that only enhances the invoked emotions of the story, as well as fully voiced narration that adds a human touch to the story and gives life to Izzy and her plights. Further aiding this humanizing factor is the amount of research that went into the plot. According to the developers, they consulted a child psychologist as well as Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice developer Ninja Theory to realistically portray a child dealing with trauma and loss.
Of course, what really ties all the elements in Lost Words together is the graphics, which as conformed by the developers are all hand painted. You can see the care that goes into every brushstroke of the lavish backgrounds, infused with a sentimentality that works to enhance the other elements. It only helps that a character designer from Lionsgate worked on the characters themselves.
As it turns out, this ambitious project first started as a humble Tetris inspired game but with the premise of words fitting together instead of blocks. However, an unintentional side effect of the engine caused the words to float in the air instead of descending as intended. The developers loved this concept so much that they began to build a game around it, eventually pitched the concept to Rhianna Pratchett, and the rest is history.
It’s a testament to Lost Words that among some standout titles from Modus Games that I demoed, this one really left an impact on me. It reminds me that video games can be used to tell a wide range of stories and draw out many different emotions in players. I look forward to experiencing the full version of Lost Words: Beyond the Page when it releases later this year for PS4, Xbox One, and Steam.
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