Now, I’m not one for hyperbole. I am well known around these parts for keeping my thoughts concise, to the point and as far from gratuitous, flowery exaggeration as is possible – and I am of course screwing with you, I wax more lyrics than a spontaneous musical number in a candle factory. But let it be known that when I deliver the following statement, I do so in the knowledge it represents the absolute, unequivocal truth. Lost in Play is one of the finest puzzle games I’ve played in recent years, and probably my favourite entry into the point-and-click genre since my childhood. It doesn’t necessarily break any boundaries or introduce mindblowing innovations. It doesn’t call attention to itself with flashy gimmicks or an engrossing narrative. Being an undermarketed indie, it probably won’t even register on the radars of most gamers. It’s just quietly very, very good.
Their final fantasy? I hope not
Lost in Play, a homegrown effort from Tel Aviv studio Happy Juice Games, is ostensibly the tale of two siblings, Toto and Gal, who realize they ain’t in Kansas anymore. Quite the opposite; they’re somewhere with actual colour and life; their own imaginations. It seems a fantasy quest game they were playing has gotten out of hand. Now the pair are adrift in the dreamscape of their bonkers noggins. What this premise really is, though, is an excuse for there to be absolutely no consistent throughline or set of rules for the game to follow. Since we’re in the imaginations of a couple of sugared-up tots, logic is scarcely a factor. This allows Happy Juice to flex every creative muscle in their bulging nine-pack of ideas. And boy, do they flex.
It’s impossible to discuss the gameplay of Lost in Play without first addressing the graphical presentation, which is integral to the charm and positively jaw-dropping. Put simply, this looks like the kind of game Pendleton Ward, Chuck Jones and Genndy Tartakovsky would conceive if you chucked them in a room together for a few hours. Absolutely every frame of this thing is gorgeously rendered in 2D animation. Every fantastical creature and environment you encounter hums with detailed movement. Your eyes will be more than amply gorged on the visual candy here. It all looks especially marvelous played in docked mode.
A Humongous achievement
It’s this artstyle that leads me to draw the most obvious comparison (in my mind) to what Lost in Play’s gameplay reminds me of: the Humongous Entertainment library. Any gamer of a certain age recalls Spy Fox, Pajama Sam, Putt-Putt and co. of old. This title looks like what we thought those classic click-em-ups looked like back in the day. When in reality, they were running on a shoestring budget and rocked a whopping three-frame walk cycle. Those nostalgic feelings are very much evoked in Lost in Play, which sees you poking around a variety of locales to crack whatever conundrum it lays before you – not with a cursor, mind, but with the characters themselves, who’ll you’ll control directly. Every so often, they throw in a quick-time event where you must hit or mash a particular button.
This hands-on control puts paid to a main bugbear of these kinds of puzzlers: having to click every single pixel trying to track down the relevant spot on the screen. Here, it’s never too obtuse what you need to interact with, be it a crabby card game showdown with a seagull (aye), picking through the gardens of a goblin village, or piloting a little vehicle to visit a deep-sea monster. There’s a lot of diversity in the scenarios, and the solutions always click into place after a while, making the game equally accessible to the 3-years-plus crowd the PEGI rating will have you believe this is intended for. Step aside, whippersnappers.
Another intriguing aspect of the experience is the total lack of dialogue. As Toto and Gal dive ever deeper into their consciousnesses, not once will you hear a line of spoken English. It’s all babble, somewhere between Simlish and Animal Crossing chatter (which I imagine saved Happy Juice a ton on localization costs). This ensures that all communication – and therefore puzzle-solving – is done visually. And the result is a refreshing, revolutionary take on the genre that places greater focus on the brainteasers than your partner/protagonist quipping in your ear. Soz, Guybrush.
All told, Lost in Play will run you about 5-8 hours, depending on how stuck you happen to get. Whether that’s worth the asking price of almost twenty quid on the Switch is down to you. I think it’s clear which side of the fence I come down on. An intriguing hint system is available to bail you out if you really need it. It ends up proving useful for the aforementioned kiddiwinks. Music and menus are also top-notch, with both continuing to evoke that childhood sense of adventure these kinds of outings create.
Basically, I have nary a negative thing to say about Lost in Play. I can’t recall the last time an adventure game made me feel so… so abjectly happy and wholesome. These vile emotions, I thought I’d had them suppressed! But no, this delightfully off-the-wall little title has toddled on up, and in unassuming fashion, brought me right back. Back to those days when I sat in front of our chunky Windows 95 family PC. When the world didn’t seem so bleak. Highly, highly recommended. Sequel please.
Lost in Play is available now. Switch review code kindly provided by Happy Juice.