Lost in Blue Reader Review
Lost in Blue - part 1 (of 2)
Firstly, you'll have noticed that this is the first part of my review. Why? you may ask. Well, that's because I couldn't wait until I finished the game to write a full report. That is, a full report to say how unbelievably awesome Lost in Blue is.
Looking for a game to tie me over until Animal Crossing: Wild World (US import) arrived, I asked those on the Eurogamer forum to recommend an NDS game. The usual cropped up (Advance Wars, MKDS, Nintendogs, etc.) but one said Lost in Blue. Initially mistaking this as the retitled NDS game of Another Code (or Trace Memory), I managed to grab myself a copy for £25. I'd heard that the control method was a problem, needing constant switching between the buttons and the stylus - but I seriously wonder whether this is actually a problem or if gamers would prefer everything done for them. Agreed, a flowing control scheme is necessary for games where control and precision are paramount, but Lost in Blue isn't about to throw hordes of monsters at you that need pin-point headshots to down. It is an adventure game in the truest sense of the word - it's quite unlike anything else, yet it does contain elements that you've seen before.
The story follows Keith who somehow gets stranded on a desserted island after a heavy storm and shipwreck. He doesn't know much before then and must find a way off the island - however, there are more pressing issues and they come in the form of keeping alive through abating hunger and thirst, maintaining a good level of stamina, and making sure your health (HP) doesn't reach zero. The first three factors (rated between 0-100%) decrease with time, initially at a pace that is seemingly untrue, so you need to find food, water and a place to rest. Everything calls for your attention at the same because you start with roughly 25% of everything (including HP), Keith relentlessly goes on about being tired, hungry and thirsty, and you wonder the beach and grassland in search for something, anything.
Having fended off death by eating fallen coconuts, stumbling across a cave (that acts as your home until you leave the island) and explored a bit more, you'll meet another survivor from a different shipwreck (I think). This girl, Skye, becomes dependent on you as you stomp on her glasses and render her near-sighted for the rest of the game. Now it's a case of feeding for two as food must be shared so that neither dies. Now, don't let it get to you when you find you've died two or three times (with maybe Skye pushing up the daisies on one of those occasions), because it is initially a challenge to get through the first two or three days (in-game clock is not real-time). The balance doesn't seem fair at first, but once you've managed to find the root vegetables, you'll find it easier.
As far as I can tell, it's an adventure to get off the island. Although Skye arrives on a lifeboat, Keith says that sea is too choppy to ride out, so it's about exploring the beautifully realised island and seeing where the story takes you. As you dive deeper into the island, you'll be scrubbing the touch screen to dig away the sand or dirt to pick up clams and root vegetables (respectively), or to shake a tree and pick up the fallen goods. You'll be collecting twigs to keep alive the fire in your cave. You'll be making make-shift fishing rods and spears to catch food for a fuller dinner. You'll be sorting out puzzles to create shortcuts to cut down on travel time. And then, and this bit was great, you'll start making the cave your home, properly. Collections of twigs, vines and bamboo can be stored away for later use, a shelf lets you put some stuff away, you get a build area for making basic furniture. And only recently, I got an empty oil drum that Skye and I are using to store drinking water! Sorry, I mean Skye and Keith are...
But that's just my point - you will get engrossed and you will care for the both of them and you will become Keith. What with Skye being near-sighted, you have to guide her by holding hands. Call me a wuss, but it's incredibly touching and even more so when you see Keith assist Skye traverse the terrain, gently man-handling her up levels, holding hands to let her down, and reaching out and grabbing Skye when she jumps across small gaps. I'm at the beginnings of getting the materials for a bed so that we can get a better night's rest - the hard floor isn't helping us regain more than half-stamina for the next day. It makes you aware of the basics that are enough to see through each day, and what can be done with the surroundings to enhance life and make it that little bit easier. For example, root vegetables and coconuts aren't really enough to keep the hunger away, so you'll soon find a solid wooden stick and make it into a spear for fishing in the river (good use of touch screen to spear the passing fish). After a while, it becomes a chore but you learn that a stick, a length of vine and a sharpened stone can be fashioned into a fishing rod. All you need is some bait - generously scattered around the grassy earth - and off to fish you go; a task made much easier and guarantees you'll be bringing home something a lot more substantial than fruit and veg.
The only thing you'll encounter as remotely threatening is your own inability to judge travelling distances and forward planning of food ratios. I've not encountered, and I doubt I will, and monsters that will come up and take a swipe at you. There's enough trouble try to figure out how to learn recipes for Skye (so that you won't get stuck with the 'So-so' carrot salad), and finding all the little things that are hidden in the game (a scrapbook records everything you've found at least once, and many blanks are listed - the recipe section alone has about 30 or so squares to fill in). The great thing about this scrapbook is that it lists items you found in a previous game - that is, when I died earlier before, looking in the scrapbook I found that some had already been filled in. This give the game some good replayability value - not much, but if you've finished it, it's likely you'll want to dig in a bit more and find everything. I know that's what I'll be doing.
And all this before I've even said a word about the presentation. It's not obvious until Keith gets up from being washed ashore and strolls around - the animation is flawlessly fluid, the fading sand footprints, splashing of water along the waterline, the accompanying sound effects, the little snippets of voice, the nicely drawn environments, Keith's 3D arms. It doesn't push the 3D effects as much as MKDS, but it was the animations that blew me away - I really hadn't seen anything move so smoothly and naturally in a long time, especially so on a un-hyped game. I've guided Skye across a lot of terrain and I've yet to get bored of watching the animation - it's clean, flowing, flawless, has appropriate placement of hands (youthful Keith doesn't care for a quick grope of his fairly stunning new-found friend) and caring. It harks back to the old days (or even current-gen 2D games) when developers only had sprites to work with; the amount of care and attention they would put into animation was awesome because when it was done well, it would forever remain in memory (Conan from the game Flashback comes to mind - absolutely amazing!)
The issues of controlling the game? Absolutely none. It might seem strange why you can't interact in certain why and it doesn't give an explanation as to why, but you soon won't care because you'll have gotton used to it. Every game has some gamer nitpicking about the control, but if it's becuase of your own personal inability to hold a stylus between you middle and ring fingers whilst holding the NDS normally and tapping at the face-buttons with your thumb, of your inability to look past your own lack of dexterity, and to blame this on the game's controls, then you're a twat.
Lost in Blue is like a beautiful love-child of Lost (that TV programme) and Sims 2. It takes the tension from the former and the survival and expanding features of the latter. It's a game to take your time over because there's (currently) no rush to get off the island. You might feel you just want to stock up on the inventory, or push the exploration that little bit more to see what's in store, and then just falling back home before deciding if you want to venture again.
I always post reviews and then remember that I'd forgotten something, either good or bad. This time I know that there are still some more things to come, more things to build and make, more things to praise the game on. Hopefully I'll be able to fill in any gaps in my second part of the review, coming soon no doubt. But for the time being, definately have this on your 'must play' list - I'd go as far to say that it should be up there with Animal Crossing: Wild World (which I unexpected got the day before Lost in Blue - will review that some other time). How can I explain it anymore?
I can't, so I won't.