Growing up is a time of discovery – for better or worse. Adolescents are trying to figure out who they are, while confronting life’s complexities and harsher realities. Lost Words: Beyond The Page dives into this confusing time by allowing you to interact with a young girl’s journal as she pursues her dream of being a writer. You see two sides to her life: the story coming to life in her imagination and personalized entries showcasing her feelings as she faces her own hardships. The two begin to intertwine in interesting ways, making for an emotional tale about acceptance, perseverance, and coming of age that made me misty-eyed on more than one occasion. Lost Words: Beyond The Page is worth the experience for this reason, but you have to contend with some shortcomings to get to the beauty.
In Lost Words, the narrator, Izzy, is struggling to write her first story. We get insight into the frustrations and challenges through her journal, where she reveals what’s going on in her personal life. The experience is heavily focused on atmosphere and narrative, right down to selecting certain aspects of Izzy’s story, such as the character’s name and attire and choosing the words to convey her emotions. You platform your way across words as she writes them in her journal, and you interact with the fantastical world she creates by selecting words from your journal and moving them to obstacles with your cursor, like using the word “repair” to fix a bridge or “rise” to raise platforms.
Because words matter so much, a strong narrative is essential. Thanks to the work of writer Rhianna Pratchett, who worked on Heavenly Sword and the Tomb Raider reboot, the narrative is certainly the best part of the game. Izzy’s journey is relatable to anyone who’s had to find their way. Like every young person, she struggles with her self-esteem and having confidence in her own abilities, but what resonates the most is her feelings when she experiences an unpredictable tragedy that causes her to examine the darker parts of life. I won’t spoil anything, but I will say that Lost Words can be a punch in the gut; I felt so much for Izzy as I watched her spiral into depression and struggle to accept the events unfolding around her.
Overall, I enjoyed the main story and its message, but it does play out pretty predictably and occasionally overdoes it in the motivational speech department. However, outside of the main narrative’s slow start, the way the game mechanics tell Izzy’s story is quite beautiful. A few scenes will always stick with me, like when Izzy gets the ability to use the word “ignore” to get past crowds, symbolizing her shutting out others. Sadly, these great moments don’t occur regular enough, forcing you to put up with some boring gameplay. It doesn’t help that the environments in the fantastical world are barren, linear almost to a fault, and not very interesting to explore. Even navigating these spaces with their various challenges and obstacles gets dull fast, because the mechanics rarely change or evolve enough to be satisfying or offer a challenge. For instance, I loved when the word “rise” transformed into a new gameplay mechanic when I was able to go underwater, but this is the only time I felt the game did anything interesting with the words at your disposal.
I haven’t even addressed another issue: the finicky controls. You often move words around the screen to make an extra jumping platform or so you can interact with objects, but this process feels awkward; sometimes it’s hard to match things up precisely and the controls aren’t as responsive as they should be. For instance, I experienced a delayed response for some actions, like using the word “break” to split a tree branch. I also ran into some technical issues with slow load times, disappearing objects, and framerate chugging. These mishaps don’t occur regularly enough to be overly frustrating, but I hope future patches smooth things out.
Lost Words: Beyond The Page affected me more than most games do, but it’s not always engaging to play. In the end, the touching story wins out over the flaws, but be prepared for an inconsistent experience. Sometimes I found myself nodding off going through yet another boring platforming sequence; others, I had to turn to the next page of Izzy’s journal to make sure she’d be okay. Lost Words: Beyond The Page is an interesting way to tell an interactive story, venturing into territory that isn’t often explored in video games and I’m glad it exists, despite its flaws.