At school, back in the dark days of the 1980s, one of the most popular books was that of “The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4”. It was a book that kids loved as it spoke to them, inspiring us to buy and write in diaries. My diary entries were vast, initially beginning with exploits and adventure, yet as I got older they fast-turned monosyllabic – ‘went swimming’, ‘hate PE’. In Lost Words: Beyond the Page we are invited into the thoughts and creative mind of a young girl named Izzy. We follow her journey through both the real world and an imagined fantasy one, as the two narratives collide. And believe me, it’s weepy at times so get your tissues ready.
I first happened upon Lost words in early 2019 at a preview event, leaving it mightily impressed with the writing, unique gameplay, and magical world that the developers and creative team had created. Now having completed the full game I can say with confidence that my expectations have been met, and surpassed.
The game starts with a journal of Izzy who has a mother, a father, a smelly baby brother, and her best friend – her grandmother. We learn at the beginning that her gran is her hero, inspiring her to become a writer. She imagines a fantasy story set in the world of Estoria, following a heroine who heads off on a quest to rescue magical fireflies and defeat an evil dragon that has destroyed her home. When some terrible event happens in the real world, the effects can be shown in Izzy’s fantasy world as well.
This writing is so cleverly put together and thought-out. The writer, Rhianna Pratchett, is a master at narrative and dialogue, and this is especially true of Izzy and her family. As well as being a story about a young aspiring writer this is essentially a tale about how a family tragedy can affect a young mind and all the people around them. It delicately and thoughtfully tackles grief, despair, and the depression that one can feel from a sudden loss. It’s beautifully played out all the way through though, concluding with a lovely coda.
But it’s all very well having this wonderful narrative and deep themes, but what about the gameplay? Well, that’s thankfully very good as well, with Lost Words divided into two distinct parts: the Journal world and the fantasy world.
In the Journal world, your level plays out as an open book, focused on the animated figure of Izzy. As words are written at the same time as the voice-over narrates, they appear across the page, allowing Izzy to jump on them, working like a platformer. By landing on certain highlighted words you trigger more events of the story, like drawings in the book that you can interact with. Certain words can be cut, dragged, and used with specific images. For example, Izzy’s journal has the word ‘Open” in her self narrative and a picture of a door appears. You can then drag the ‘Open’ word across to the door and, hey presto, the door opens. The whole journal section is a delight from start to finish and it is here where the innovation and creativity just keeps getting better and better.
The journey through the fantasy world of Estoria is very much like a traditional platformer, at least to begin with. You are presented with a colourful 2D world, letting you jump, run, slide and crawl through. You collect fireflies as you go through the levels – with these found in both easy and hard-to-reach places. And as you would expect, there are blocks to push and vines to climb up. What works differently though is the hero can use word magic, making the most of a little book of word spells that are at your disposal. For example, if you use the word “RISE” and drag it from the book to a certain block, it will rise to open a pathway or lift you to hard-to-reach areas. The same technique is used for the likes of BREAK and BURN. I won’t reveal any more though, as it really will spoil the fun.
Once again this part of the world is hugely enjoyable, complete with a wide selection of landscapes and things to do. My only criticism is that it all gets a bit slow towards the end sections and the platforming doesn’t always feel as grounded as it should. That is however minor critiquing of an otherwise excellent experience.
The visuals that bring Lost Words: Beyond the Page to life come with a beautiful hand-drawn quality to them; they feel like they have come straight out of a fairytale book. The journal section – with Izzy running and jumping along the words – is stunning and it’s something that is extremely difficult to become bored of. The fantasy world of Estoria is more traditional, but the colour schemes are bright and vibrant – on the whole it’s a very lovely-looking game. The soundtrack perfectly complements the gameplay too, with some great voice-over from the cast.
If you’re looking for a game that will entertain the whole family, innovating and informing as you go, then you can’t go wrong with Lost Words: Beyond the Page on Xbox. It’s a great experience with a fantastic concept, some beautifully heartfelt writing, and wonderful gameplay. I’ve secretly been hoping that this would be just as intriguing as it was when I first had a chance to take it in all those years back, and thankfully it’s exceeded all expectations.