Growing up might not have been exactly easy, but it has made me value my time much more. Whether it is important duties or getting a breather, I feel like I have become better at cutting away anything I worthless to me. This is something that also occurs with video games, as there are so many to play and I often get annoyed if longer ones are merely arbitrarily so. Luckily, today’s subject is not only great at keeping my attention throughout, but also reminds me of what it was like to be an imaginative kid on a magical trip.
Journey through dreams
Probably my favourite part of this project is really how straightforward the plot is. We meet two children who are brothers and sisters, spending the afternoon playing within their own fantasy world that is inspired by details from their everyday lives. Unfortunately, they get so caught up in their own universe, that they get lost and have to find their way home before it gets too late, hence the title. I adore this, as this setup is being used as an excuse to offer plenty of creative visuals and moments, making for a gripping adventure.
Having tea parties with bizarre creatures, assisting gnome frogs in order to defeat a monster or getting help from trolls in a wasteland to build a flying machine, showcases that there are a ton of delightful ideas that make every new event a bliss to experience. They never try to be deep, but joyfully strange, which is actually made clear by the first portion of this story taking place within a dream. What makes this tale even stronger, is the huge amount of simple characters that are memorable through their powerful emotions, which kids are accustomed to. Be it a grumpy bartender goblin or mocking crows, there is a big emphasis on such qualities, with the protagonists being no slackers either.
The boy is a bit isolated and tries to open up, while the girl is much more active and social, making them have a nice if familiar chemistry. Although the locations they visit are intriguing too, like a magical forest and inside a fish’s belly, they are definitely enriched by the enchanting inhabitants. It should also be mentioned that humour is a constant factor that makes it all lighthearted, with a lovely example being an IKEA manual for creating a dragon. Everything is even told without uttering a single word, and I treasure how this makes the game focused on visual storytelling that anyone can be a part of.
Really, the only minor issue I have is the montage after the campaign’s climax. It is here you get imaginative scenarios that undoubtedly got cut down, and despite that I am happy to at least see these moments, it is a tragedy that they had to be sped through as mere cutscenes. Thankfully, it all ends on a heartwarming note that makes me appreciate the entire journey. A beautifully surreal adventure for all ages.
Story Score: 9/10
I was surprised upon starting this title that I was recommended a controller over using either a mouse or keyboard. While I did find the former much more comfortable, the latter options are also decent. However, seeing as this is a point-and-click where you move between areas, pick up stuff, and interact with the environments and people with the push of a button, it is interesting to not be advised to use a more traditional setup. This comes from how Lost in Play streamlines some aspects, but without compromising for a good challenge.
You will have to explore places to figure out what to do onwards, which are all elaborated on through subtle visual hints. Be it a picture referencing a code or having to logically arrange objects, puzzles are always creative without being too bizarre. Even something as strange as finding a better way for a cactus to shave makes sense within the context of this fantasy world. Another thing that helps, is that you are always kept to a few locations, which cuts down on backtracking and the possibility of becoming completely lost. Though there is a hint icon to press in case you are struggling with this genre.
Everything is made clear in terms of where you can move towards and what you can interact with, which is strengthened by the characters reacting to them if you need something specific or are hindered by an obstacle. You might occasionally be given a direct idea of what you need, but are never told how to get it, which keeps the challenge at a fair balance. I did question having items in your inventory being automatically combined at first, though it is done rarely and usually relegated to obvious trinkets you need to progress further, like tools for fixing an alarm clock.
However, there will be times when knickknacks are not enough. Instead, figuring out how to affect the environment in order to move forward will be just as important, such as causing a disturbance. It all relies on you having keen eyes and thinking about what you can do, which continues the beautiful focus on using your noggin. Although, there will be moments when the game leaves this traditional structure for other classic forms of brain teasers. It can be a unique take on Connect Four, having you outrun a monster by regarding the exclusive lines each of you can walk on alternatively or checkers.
Unfortunately, these do make the difficulty curve uneven due to those featuring an opponent having their AIs being incredibly fierce! Despite that this might make the journey slightly off, all are entertaining varieties that still keep to this title’s core genre. What do not, are the QTEs that randomly have you moving the analogue stick or pressing the button in a timed or fast manner. None of them stays long enough to become annoying, but they are simply odd inclusions that do not add anything to the adventure.
What makes Lost in Play work so well, is how grounded the imagination is for the puzzles. All are easy to understand the logic behind within the context of this universe, with nothing leaving you completely in the dark. Every single one makes you study the environment for finding clues on how to proceed and utilise bizarre trinkets that could replace an everyday tool, with the tabletop versions being solid breathers. Clocking in between two to three hours depending on your skills, this is a comfortable ride that will tickle your brain and make every solved problem feel satisfying.
Gameplay Score: 8/10
By just glancing at this, you can tell that the team was inspired by creative shows like Gravity Falls, Hilda, and Over The Garden Wall. Every character has a stretchy design that highlights specific features, such as the heroine’s curly hair or one goblin pilot’s constant lisping, creating memorable looks that are charming. Furthermore, it is all gorgeously surreal. You will come across an octopus using puppets, giant spirits you can only see above the clouds, and ruins with hidden ancient secrets just to name a few.
Combine this with unique colour setups for each location and they are all sights to behold, with the hand-drawn art style giving every motion a distinct impact! The emphasis on strong animations also translates to the cast being emotional and easy to read, which furthers the story through visual means. It is all of the two children’s imagination, which is also showcased by having their fantasies clearly inspired by their real world. In fact, this is a nice touch when the gameplay is about exploration and finding clues through observations.
I could go on with other neat elements, like a mirror early on being subtly affected by what one of the kids scribbles on it, but it is all just a marvellous experience that is enjoyable to simply watch. Even the technical parts are superb, with clever shadings and multilayered backgrounds adding to make each place mesmerising to witness. Through focusing on what you see, I also adore that there are no words ever spoken! Solely gibberish and bubbles with pictures in them are present.
While you can still read from their beautiful expressions, I also wish to commend that their voices still give great directions to provide the characters with distinguishable personalities and moods. Doing this exclusively through dialogues that are literarily nonsense is impressive and adds to the overall setting. Even the general audio is excellent, with the outstanding use of electric sounds to give magical effects a substantial punch being my favourite.
After the lovely acapella intro, I had a solid indication of what kind of tone this title was going for and it did not disappoint. Every melody is whimsical, be they gentle chimes in a foreboding forest, echoed guitar in the desert or tuba up on an island in the sky, they all make sure the instruments highlight each note and are diverse. Mainly classical ones are used, with fun and small alterations like metal being included, adding to make each landscape unique while still keeping to this project’s uplifting and weird style.
Presentation Score: 10/10
Making a product that anyone can enjoy is a challenging task, but I would say that Happy Juice Games pretty much nailed it with Lost in Play. While it can be somewhat uneven in difficulty, every single puzzle was engaging and satisfying to solve, with the surreal environments being incredible to witness. It all added up to an endearing story that I relished in seeing unfolding, and even if I do wonder what could have been with the obvious cut content, I cannot help but smile whenever I think about what an exciting journey this game offered.