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Lost Words: Beyond the Page is a story-driven puzzle-platformer by Sketchbook Games and Fourth State Limited. It was published by Modus Games and was originally released in March of 2020, but Vuk and I only saw the trailer for it recently when it went on sale.
The game takes place inside the journal of a young girl. As she reads the pages aloud, a metaphorical version of her platforms over letters and words to uncover a story. Vuk picked the game out for me, figuring that I—an English major and freelance writer—would appreciate the premise. This means that, for once, I was the one playing the majority of the game while Vuk watched.
In this Lost Words: Beyond the Page review, I’ll discuss everything I loved about this game, as well as a few pages I’d remove from this story if I could.
Choose Your Words Carefully
The main concept of Lost Words is that you are a young girl and aspiring writer taking her first shot at writing a story. The game vacillates between the journal of the girl, where she talks about her daily life with her parents and grandmother, and the story she is writing.
What makes this interesting is that, while the game itself is largely linear and narrative in nature, it uses words to create light platforming puzzles.
The journal portions of the game are minimalist in nature. You literally see lines on a notebook paper, with the girl voicing the lines as they’re being written. You control a sketched depiction of the girl as she platforms across the lines in the notebook and occasionally moves words from one line to another to uncover the story.
When you’re dealing with the story the girl is writing, the world comes alive with color and light. The main character of the story has a book, and when she finds words in the universe, she can add them to her book and use them to solve puzzles. For example, the word “Repair” allows you to fix broken bridges or recover long-forgotten statues, while the word “Burn” can light torches along walls or explode Boom-Shrooms to open passageways.
This made for an interesting mechanical style that was, by and far, my favorite part of the game. Vuk said he might have preferred a little more of a distinction between the puzzles in the journal section and the puzzles in the main character’s story, but I felt like the distinction between the real world and Estoria was prominent enough.
Although the puzzles were never particularly challenging, I enjoyed the choice the writers made to make the words integral in the gameplay, and I found it truly enjoyable.
Don’t Cry for Me
By and large, the message behind Lost Words: Beyond the Page is one of loss, heartbreak, grieving, and hope.
Although I guessed the ending of the story within the first few minutes, the writer still managed to craft a tale so poignant and true to life that it made Vuk and me both cry. The story isn’t necessarily unique, and there weren’t any major twists or turns. But in some ways, that was the point. The story felt true to life, and for that reason, it was heart-wrenchingly relatable.
But despite being a tale of loss and grief, Lost Words also had something important to say about hope for the future and the importance of building good memories with the people you love. While it was, overall, a heart-numbing tale, it also had a strong message about the cyclical nature of life, and for that reason, the ending felt woefully bittersweet.
An Overlong Final Chapter
Throughout Lost Words, the pacing was beautifully slow. This was not a “run in and beat ‘em up” type of story. It was a graceful ballet of words, slowly stretching out across the pages. And for most of the story, that worked wonderfully, ensuring the narrative remained the most important part of the game.
But then the ending happened.
The ending of the girl’s real-life story happened first. It was poignant, and beautiful, and it made us cry.
Then, the game threw us into the ending of the story the girl was writing. Based on the climax that had just occurred in the girl’s journal, we were expecting an ending that was tight in nature and wrapped the novel up succinctly. Instead, what we received was an overlong, poorly paced ending chapter that relied too heavily on the puzzle-platforming elements and wound up losing track of the story in the process.
And after half an hour of superfluous platforming, we stared at the screen like…
As a result, while the “first ending” — the ending of the girl’s real story — was beautiful and poignant, the ending of the girl’s novel felt arduous and self-serving.
A Game Worth Paging Through
Overall, Lost Words: Beyond the Page told a beautiful — if not entirely unique — story in an incredibly interesting way. Despite the overlong ending, it was a fairly short game, taking us just two evenings to play through. But the amount of time it spent on the game was plenty to tell a compelling story and get a good message across while allowing us to enjoy some truly interesting gameplay mechanics.
I’m giving Lost Words: Beyond the Page a bittersweet 7/10. I applaud the mechanics they chose to use — even if they felt a bit more choppy on console than they probably feel on PC — and I enjoyed the game enough to recommend it to people who enjoy casual games that unfold slowly over time.
If I could just place the “Ignore” word over the over-long second ending, I might even be willing to play it again myself.