Stories are powerful. Stories make up the foundations of who we are as humans. Whether reading them, writing them, watching them, drawing them or experiencing them through play, so much of our time is all about taking in stories. For little kids, stories are an important part of how you grow and relate to the world. That is where Lost Words: Beyond the Page takes root. Written by Rhianna Pratchett, of Tomb Raider and Overlord fame, Lost Words is the story of a young girl. Izzy B. Cooke, told through her journal. She has a vivid imagination, an enduring love for her grandmother and an aversion to kale. She also has a brand new journal and she wants to be a writer.
The plot of Lost Words follows Izzy and the real-life trials, tribulations, and memories she writes about in her journal alongside a story of her own design. The two run parallel, with Izzy and the protagonist of her story learning from each other. While her protagonist collects fireflies and chases a dragon, Izzy confronts reality. It’s a sweet and heartwarming story, full of rich emotions and relatable situations. I laughed, I cried and at the end, I sat down and reflected on both the story and myself.
Lost Words deals with several deep topics and themes. It touches on depression, emotional trauma, hopelessness, dreams and finding yourself, all through the eyes of a young girl. While video games and media, in general, can be extremely hit or miss when presenting these subjects, Lost Words flawlessly navigates them, in a realistic and passionate manner. It's accessible to both kids and adults, mixing gut-punching empathy with raw optimism in a unique blend.
Gameplay itself is almost as engaging as the story. While the story is split between Izzy’s journal and her made-up world of Estoria, both play as out as slightly different styles of side-scrolling platformers. In Izzy’s journal, you navigate by literally jumping and running from word to word as she writes, and you can interact and piece sentences and situations together. For example, when you make her mother a cup of tea, you see a drawing of a kitchen and need to fill the kettle, pour the tea, add the teabag and the milk and sugar.
The art looks sketched and painted, almost childlike. However, the art itself is way too good for most actual kids to draw at a young age. Watercolors add life to the pages and emphasis to Izzy’s story, and the jumps between each word and phrase really feel like she’s walking you through what’s happening. You’re seeing her thoughts as they occur, not just reading the journal after she’s finished with it.
As for her written story, you follow the protagonist from start to finish. There are three choices of names for the protagonist but I called mine Grace, so that’s how I’ll be referring to her. You also get to choose the color of her dress, the color of her pendant and several of her reactions as the story goes along. Even when you’re not choosing how the story goes, Izzy’s writing appears all around Grace throughout her adventure. Like the journal itself, Izzy narrates everything as you go along.
Grace can use Word Magic to overcome the obstacles she encounters on her journey. With the press of a button, you can bring up her book and drag and drop any of her magic words from it to tackle her current situation. There are six words that Grace collects throughout the story, and each one helps her progress differently. While it's not usually difficult to figure out which word to use, you feel as powerful as Grace as you shape the world around her. It's an interesting gameplay mechanic, and while it's kept simple, Word Magic has more than enough potential for expansion.
For those looking for a challenging sidescroller platformer, this is not it. Neither Izzy’s nor Grace’s story poses a difficult challenge, and there's no way to die. The emphasis is on the experience and the story, not the difficulty of gameplay. However, for those looking for a challenge, collecting the complete set of fireflies for Grace is precisely that. While two-thirds are easy to see and find, the game encourages you to explore and look into every nook and cranny to find them all.
The voice acting and music in the game were delightful. Izzy/Grace’s actress, Sidonie Maria Sakalis, was phenomenal. The emotional range and depth of her performance brought the world to life and made it feel, truly, like a child’s journal. Also of note, Penny Rawlins’ performance as both Lump and the Whaleshark, as well as a few other roles, was pitch-perfect. Lump turned into a curious, precocious youngster and the Whaleshark belied wisdom and strength. I shockingly discovered that it was the same person voicing both. They sounded so different!
With an engaging and wonderful plot and gameplay that works perfectly in harmony with the story, there were very few things to dislike about Lost Words. At most, there were a few glitches here and there, and at one point I accidentally had Grace sink below an entire desert. However, the only real annoyance I found was late in the game, when the scenery starts shaking as Grace braves her way forward. The constant shaking gave me a slight case of motion sickness which thankfully stopped after leaving that particular section. Still, intermittent shakes and long periods of stopping would be much appreciated for a replay.
Lost Words: Beyond the Page is a masterpiece. It’s engaging and touching, and relatable for both young kids and adults. The art, the writing, the music, and the acting are all beautiful, working together to create a truly special experience. Running around and jumping from words to words as the narration speaks is a flowing experience, bringing you into the moment of the story as each goes by. Games like Lost Words don’t come around very often, and as the story itself reminds you, you need to savor them as they do.
TechRaptor reviewed Lost Words: Beyond the Page on Google Stadia using a code provided by the publisher.
- Engaging, Wonderfully Written Story
- Fun Gameplay Interacting with Words and Word Magic
- Brave, Resilient Heroines You Can't Help But Root For
- Slight Motion Sickness Inducing Sequence at End of Game