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   Lost in Blue - Staff Review  

SWM/SWF Seeks Escape
by Anna Marie Neufeld

SURVIVAL SYSTEM
INTERACTION
ORIGINALITY
STORY
MUSIC & SOUND
VISUALS
CHALLENGE
Challenging
COMPLETION TIME
10-25 hours
OVERALL

4.0/5

Rating definitions 

   It's the seafarer's worst nightmare: a storm rises up, throwing their craft around the ocean like a toy boat in a wild bathtub fight. Being washed overboard could often mean death, if land wasn't nearby or rescue wasn't possible. It's been the focus of movies, but rarely has such a theme been seen in a game, and certainly not to the extent seen in Lost in Blue. A part of the Survival Kids series, it is a game that requires a large amount of survival instinct and wits to help Keith and Skye to flourish on their island. Showing the usefulness of the touch screen without overuse, Lost in Blue shows that the DS has a huge amount of potential for future RPGs, as well as in the here and now.

   There are no battles to be fought here; knives are used to cook food. So, where does all the effort the characters would usually use to save the world get expended instead? It is needed to survive the harshness of the wilderness. While the two have landed on a tropical island, it doesn't mean this is a vacation. Both Keith and Skye have stats, and the player needs to make note of them. HP is most important, and if either of the two's HP drops to zero, they die and it's game over. Dictating what drops their HP is a little more complicated. Three other stats supercede HP: stamina, hunger, and thirst. These are mostly self-explanitory. Whenever the two perform an action, even if it is just walking or running, their stamina drops. If it drops to zero, their HP begins dropping. Thirst and hunger go down as the day progresses, varying with how much the two exert themselves. If both drop to zero, then HP also begins to drop. When they are at 30% or less in one of these stats, their stamina also drops faster. As the only way to heal HP is through sleep (and they cannot sleep if they are hungry), it becomes a fine balancing act. So, in order to keep the two healthy it is important to maintain all three of the stats that the player can directly affect.

   As of the second day, an area near the cave on the shore of the river becomes available for drinking, so sustaining thirst is easiest. Scavanging nearby the cave will produce a number of available food sources. Some can simply be picked up by using the A button while standing on them, such as mushrooms, fruits, and seaweed. There are some food items that require the stylus. Vegetables grown in the ground will need to be dug up by moving the stylus back and forth to uncover them. Items hidden in lumps of sand will also need to have their coatings removed. Fishing with a spear requires the stabbing of the stylus to simulate the spear itself. While some foods can be eaten raw, others require cooking, which falls in the hands of Skye. While at first her cooking may not be so appealing, a number of events can aid her in her culinary task. Random foraging can result in spices of all sorts being unearthed (especially rock salt on the beach), and as the island is more thoroughly explored there are other items which will aid in her cooking. The relationship between the two will also affect her recipes. Unfortunately, Skye has one important fault to overcome: she is nearsighted and does not have her glasses. So, wherever she goes, she needs to be lead by the hand. This includes going for water as well as travelling. This disability also means she cannot climb up or down the same heights as Keith can, making exploring with her an extra challenge.

Giving a Hand Keith helps Skye

   Tools are an important part of island life. Keith is in charge of creating and using these tools. They span everything from a simple firemaker to more complex tools including a bow and arrow. Aside from tools there are also important upgrades to the cave the duo reside in which will aid their lifestyle on the island. While Skye sets up some of these, Keith is generally in charge of building these additions. From beds to shelves to tables and chairs, these effect how the stats of the two decrease at night and in Skye's case during the day. For example, when Keith first arrives on the island he needs to make a fire; he creates a firemaking tool, which allows a fire for the two to fall asleep beside each night. To make the fire the player must press the L and R buttons in rhythm to make a spark, then blow on the microphone to get the spark to burn into a fire. However, like most fires, when it runs out of fuel the fire dies. Skye will eventually get the idea of having a twig holding area, and she will stock the fire herself. Later on, she may give Keith the idea of making beds, which Keith must them build. These "fancy" sleeping quarters will increase how much stamina the two wake up with and also decrease how much thirst and hunger that is consumed at night. Both are very necessary if further exploration of the island is to happen. Building is a mini-game which also uses the stylus. There is a white line which spans half the screen and then takes a right angle to move directly downwards. On this white line, shapes run across, and when they reach the right angle they drop. This is where the player is required to draw the specific shape in a black box on the right side of the vertical white line. Speed and accuracy are both important, since if they player does not draw enough shapes successfully (or blow hard enough when the instruction is to blow instead of draw), then the building attempt fails and all materials are lost. All in all, the survival system is undoubtedly complex but as it is introduced in small chunks it is much more managable than it sounds.

   As the two further explore their island, the player will find that while the music isn't top notch, neither does it slouch. Each area has its own music, changing with the time of day. Additionally, the music played in the cave will vary depending upon the relationship between the two teenagers. This means that while there is a lot of time spent in only a few areas, the music does not become boring, even if it isn't a renowned OST. The visuals have the same quality. While they are not amazing, they serve the game quite well, and fit the mood and theme of the game very well. The two screens are used to balance the visual load well, allowing players access to important information they would have to be constantly checking in a menu were it not a DS title. A solid offering on both the audial and visual front is yet another reason to enjoy the game.

Build Building a Raft

   There is no getting around the fact that Lost in Blue is a challenging game. Even surviving the first day is hard for those playing through the first time. The learning curve begins steeply, although it becomes somewhat easier as the game progresses and the duo find ways to ease their harsh lifestyle, such as better beds, water storage, and improved recipes. Repeated playthroughs will ease the overall difficulty but doesn't take away from the inital challenge when the two first arrive on the island. When Keith's story is completed, which could take anywhere from 10-15 hours, Skye's perception of the story is then unlocked, adding another 10-15 hours on top of the original playthrough. Depending how often that the player gets stuck, these times could be reduced, or increased. The game does have a few monotonous chores but this does not detract from the overall enjoyment, and a player can enjoy the game reardless of how much time they put into it.

   Menus are kept simple and in the style of the game's theme; often menu items are depicted as rough drawings. Materials and inventory, acceptance of actions and cancelling, are laid out in a logical manner and are easy to read and use. This, hand in hand with a well-done localization, means that the game is challenging because of the focus of the game, and not because of difficulties in comprehension. It would seem on the surface that the difference in culture between the game's origin and the localization would at first trip up the game, but an excellent job was done in translating the interaction between the two characters.

   The story seems very stereotypical - boy and girl washed up on a deserted island after a storm; no other humans can be found but proof of humans being there in the past through items such as artifacts and domesticated foods. How the story establishes itself from there is quite novel. As Keith and Skye seek to overcome the hardships of the island as well as become friends, the story unfolds as they interact with both each other and the environment, allowing the story to be delivered in logical steps. Those familiar with the tactical RPG genre will find this sort of piecemeal storytelling familiar. This does not mean that there is no originality in the story, or in fact with the rest of the game. The Survival Kids series is not very well known in North America, and most of the ideas brought to the genre are a breath of fresh air when many games are so leery of trying new ideas. Combining together in a fluid fashion all the positive elements found in a typical RPG, as well as trying new ideas, is something few games can do right, yet Lost in Blue does it with style.

   As the first RPG released on the DS in North America, there were high expectactions from RPGamers that had waited for a year since the DS' launch for a solid title to sink their teeth into. The wait has now expired, as Lost in Blue delivers a hard, but ultimately rewarding game that players will be pleased to add to their RPG collection and keep for its solid replay value. Those that don't have it should definitely give it a second look and consider picking up this entertaining title for themselves.

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