We’re back to shedding more than a tear with a particularly short but equally intense title, welcome to our review of Lost Words: Beyond the Page
Mourning and loss are concepts inherent to the same human being. From an early age, many of us have found ourselves having to deal with the pain of losing someone dear to us. A spiral of despair and suffering that, only over time, will become acceptance. We never truly overcome the death of someone dear to us, we simply learn to live with absence. In the gaming medium, the most touching and chronologically closest experience that comes to mind is Gris by Nomada Studio, which we told you about in a review for the PlayStation 4 version and a more emotional special. Recently, however, we came across a welcome surprise.
Lost Words: Before the Page came out about a year ago as a Google Stadia timeline exclusive. Developed by Sketchbook Games and published by Modus Games. This little pearl boasts, to the script, a signature rather known by those who hang out in the videogame industry for some time. If the name of Rhianna Pratchett should not tell you anything, just know that she is the daughter of the most famous Terry Pratchett (Disco World) and that she has put her hands in the creation of videogame settings and scripts since the Prince of Persia in 2008, also passing through a much more noble BioShock Infinite . Lost Words: Before the Page, at the end of the temporality of the exclusive for Stadia, has also arrived on PC and consoles and we have taken the opportunity to tell you about it in this review.
Normality is underestimated
Izzy is a little girl who lives in a terribly normal family. Mom, dad, very little brother, kitten and very energetic and deeply interesting grandmother. A biologist, moreover, who has taught, over time, many curiosities and pearls to her little and intelligent granddaughter. Not many of you have probably been lucky enough to experience a grandfather as Izzy did, getting valuable life advice, living lightly many little moments of happiness and receiving constructive reproaches. A second mother, a little older and wiser, but don’t tell her openly that you might find yourself a slipper on your forehead. I mean, that kind of grandmother.
Izzy is a little girl who dreams of becoming a writer. And what better way to start shaping your skills than by writing a journal? Izzy’s grandmother obviously knows very well, and so decides to take advantage of the child’s creativity by giving her a small diary, her inner window. And so, Izzy the creative little girl, begins to create a story and, at this very moment, both the narrative and the gameplay of Lost Words: Beyond the Page take two completely different paths.
Due binari – Review Lost Words: Beyond the Page
On the one hand we have the life of Izzy, which proceeds in its monotonous normality, and on the other that of an adventurer who we can summarily customize by name, appearance and general characters. It’s not really important to actually create a specific alter ego for Izzy, you just need to know how to immerse yourself in the narrative of a child of that age. Robyn is the name we chose for the Estoria world adventurer we have been hearing about for the roughly 6 hours it took us to complete Lost Words: Beyond the Page, and that’s what we’re going to use for this review.
Robyn is a young adventurer, as we said, who lives in a small village in the magical kingdom of Estoria. The elderly Ava, protector of the community, is now tired and ready to “retire”. He will obviously take the opportunity when our heroine gets to know the Fireflies, small entities that have always watched over the small village, and will pass the baton to the young girl. The joy will last very little as a terrible dragon will fiercely strike their heads, destroying everything in its path and kidnapping the fireflies.
Dramma – Review Lost Words: Beyond the Page
This dramatic turn in the narrative is obviously due to a sudden disturbance in the soul of the young Izzy. A sudden illness, in fact, will separate her from her beloved grandmother and, although the little one will try to be as strong as possible both for herself and for her mother, a whirlwind of despair will envelop her and lead her to live the darkest period of her whole existence. Robyn and Izzy then start a difficult journey of awareness and acceptance: not everything can be healed. Some things are inevitable, first of all death.
The narration then continues on two very distinct tracks and this also happens on the gameplay side. In fact, if we are still basically faced with a 2D platformer with some really (too) simple enigma to deal with, on the other hand the two girls will live completely different experiences. Izzy, in the real world, will continue to write in his diary not only the events of the world of Estoria, but also anecdotes, memories and sensations that her grandmother’s sudden illness brings to mind. The words that the girl uses can be used as steps to reach the opening that will allow us to turn the page. Along the way, there will be numerous blue lights that will reveal some marginal notes, useful for knowing even better the thoughts and feelings of Izzy herself.
Puzzling – Review Lost Words: Beyond the Page
The words written by Izzy can then be used, dragging them with our pointer, to recall memories through photographs, or solve simple puzzles by recomposing the sentences that grandmother used to pronounce. We can also prepare tea, tidy up the little girl’s room or other small tasks: nothing ever exceptionally complex and only useful to lay the necessary emotional foundations. The style with which these mechanics are proposed, however, make them extremely impactful and full of meaning. Inspire, this is perhaps the right term.
The phases that instead see Robyn involved in the world of Estoria struck us much less for the same reason: inspiration. If in fact the pretext of Izzy’s diary is exploited in an elegant, simple and effective way, the setting of the fantasy world created by the girl is the most cliché and classic one can imagine. Village, desert, forest, mountain, quarry, mountain. Nothing more banal and obvious. Although it is true that it is a story told by a small girl, we would have liked to see something more evocative and detailed, but it was not so.
Dualismo dinamico – Review Lost Words: Beyond the Page
What we have been able to really appreciate is the gameplay part in the world of Estoria, certainly more dynamic and more platform than the real one. The young Robyn will have to interact with the world around her through the power of the words that are contained in the book that the wise Ava has given her. With the command “lift” we can raise platforms, with “break” we can destroy the rocks that block our way and so on. The total words are relatively few and, in the course of the adventure, there will be an underlying repetitiveness that perhaps we would have liked to be able to avoid given the poor longevity of the title. However, it never becomes something annoying and the focus on narration and emotion never gives way to boredom.
But if we have to be honest and conclude the tour of the “sensations”, Lost Words: Beyond the Page it is a title that fails to materialize. It lasts too short, it is too simple and does not offer a satisfactory degree of replay value to say “come on, I’ll try this level again”. The collection of fireflies is very end in itself and once the title is completed, once Izzy has reached its acceptance, we will not find particular ideas to take the controller back in hand.
Our test for this review of The Lost Words: Beyond the Page took place on the Nintendo Switch. We have no particular technical problems to report, if not some sporadic slight hesitation of the frame rate and a wacky graphical glitch which blocks Robyn’s crouch walk animation, while still keeping the model moving. Absolutely nothing that goes to break the emotionality of the narration, wisely assisted with a soundtrack that is certainly not epochal, but which knows which strings to touch.
There is actually something difficult
We conclude this review of Lost Words: Beyond the Page by taking up a concept that we have already expressed for other titles devoted to storytelling and empathy. It is not easy to give a vote to the title of Sketchbook Games, because each of us lives and experiences it in a completely different way. It remains that the small pearl of the small studio is a great clue of what can be done when we tell well sensations, emotions, fears and pains of the human soul. Too bad because it really lasts too short and does not offer great ideas to continue living the adventures of Robyn and the growth of Izzy. Recommended for anyone who wants to shed a few tears without making a special effort.
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Points in favor
- Simple, exciting and universal
- Aesthetically inspired
- Dynamic and fun dualism in both storytelling and gameplay
- Difficulty too low
- Lacks replay value