Reviewed: October 9, 2005
Released: September 27, 2005
Chances are we’ve all asked ourselves (or been asked) at some point in time, “if you were stranded on a deserted island with only one video game what would it be?” Well, Konami wants to answer that question by actually stranding you on an island in their latest DS title, Lost in Blue.
Capitalizing on the unprecedented success of TV’s hit reality show Survivor, Konami wants to tap into that alluring appeal of being shipwrecked on an uncharted island. Admittedly, this concept has been explored, both from the humorous angle of Gilligan’s Island all the way to the brutally realistic vision portrayed by the skeletal Tom Hanks in Castaway.
Lost in Blue doesn’t try to paint a pretty picture of being shipwrecked. It’s all about survival of the fittest and frankly, your characters aren’t all that fit. After the stormy open movie you wake up, washed ashore on the beach of a rather large and deserted island. Obviously, you’ll want to explore your surroundings and the need for food, water, fire, and shelter encourages this desire.
What you might not expect to find is a girl, another passenger who was also washed ashore a bit further down the beach. Your initial encounter is a bit awkward, especially after you step on her glasses, effectively blinding her and making her your number one burden for the rest of the game. Unable to see, she now becomes the girl from Ico that must be led around by the hand, shoved up onto ledges, and carried over various hazards. Good luck getting out of this one little buddy…
Lost in Blue is a blur of genres. I would call it an adventure, but Konami insists it’s a “simulation” while the official website calls it an RPG. Considering you spend most of the game wandering around the island collecting items and assembling them into useful tools or gathering foodstuffs to prepare makeshift meals, I’d have to stick with calling this an adventure.
This is one of those few titles that would never fly on the console, especially for those that remember the failed (yet entirely enjoyable) survival title, Disaster Report on the PS2. But by making use of the touch screen and the microphone, Konami has managed to create a unique approach to gameplay that will keep you amused for a few hours longer than you’d expect.
Indeed, much of the game is wandering around rather plain landscapes of grass, sandy beach, rocky ledges, and the like, but when it comes time to interact with those environments or the objects they possess, the game becomes quite clever. Case in point, creating a campfire.
Creating a campfire is not only essential in drying out your clothes and surviving that first night on the island but also in preparing meals to keep you alive. Creating fire requires that you find several items including kindling, wood, and some sticks to rub together. Now it gets fun. Using the right and left triggers you can rotate the stick to generate heat and create a spark. Once you start to see smoke you start blowing into the DS microphone to literally turn that glowing ember into a crackling campfire. It’s not as easy as it sounds and requires some slow and rhythmic rotation of the stick (aka alternating taps of the shoulder buttons) combined with an almost CPR-like breathing into the mic.
But long before you are huffing and puffing into your DS you will find yourself exploiting all the tactile uses of the DS touch screen. For instance, you’ll often need to dig through the sand or brush aside grass or underbrush by rubbing the lower screen with your finger or stylus. Need a coconut? Just grab a palm tree and start shaking the trunk from side to side until something falls out.
The game offers a functional interface for managing and manipulating your growing inventory of items. You’ll find Skye, your female companion, to be quite the accomplished cook, thus reinforcing the stereotype that a woman’s place is in the cave. At first food might consist of nothing more than shellfish and the occasional non-poisonous mushroom, (poisonous mushrooms are available upon request), but as you learn to hunt and make traps you can snare yourself some fine vitals.
The top screen serves numerous functions ranging from a top-down map of the island to real-time health meters for both you and Skye showing your stamina and nutritional status with some clever iconic meters taken right from a third grade health book.
Make no mistake about it. Lost in Blue is a difficult game to grasp and with save points only appearing at the end of each day you might find yourself replaying large portions of the game. I know it took me four tries before I managed to survive my first night. And much like what I expect it would really be like to be stranded on an island, the difficulty curve eases up the longer you are there.
Sure, you have the initial challenges of finding a reliable and replenishable food and water supply, so it might be several game days before you are actually ready to explore the island in full. And therein lies my biggest complaint with Lost in Blue. The game drags you down with repetitive survival procedures that quickly turn this from an adventure into a simulation, and not a very fun one at that.
Some of these dreary challenges are masked with clever mini-games and DS-exclusive interactions, but they are no less dreary after you have done them a dozen times. Even when you get to start doing some pattern-matching drawing with the stylus to create furniture the game has already lost much of its appeal.
The stylus was another issue I had with the game. Since so much of the game requires two hands you often need to switch between stylus and fingers. Some of the interaction works well enough with your finger on the touch screen, assuming you don’t mind fingerprints, but other puzzles liking spearing a fish or triggering a snare almost require the finer point of the stylus, and even then the accuracy is "hit and miss".
At the end of the day your stay on the island is merely a careful balancing act of performing just enough chores to stay alive while exploring the island in hopes of rescue. And when your characters are dehydrating faster than you can find fresh water, this quickly becomes not so much fun.
Lost in Blue is a 3D game hiding in a 2D presentation. Everything is presented in that tilted camera perspective that smacks of a platform game, even when you are jumping across rocks or climbing ledges. There are some nice tricks like shadows and streaming light rays to give things a semi-realistic look.
Occasionally the game will break away to some specialty shots, usually from the first-person whether you are building a fire, spearing a fish, or simply talking with Skye in some standard dialogue tree conversations. Here, the graphics get a bit more next-gen, at least for a handheld system, and show off the DS.
Textures are rather plain with repeating grass, sand, rock, and water textures, mostly the stuff we’d expect to see on a GBA. The color palette is also limited to the dreary earth tones of nature, or at least what you’d find on a deserted island. The only hints of color are the status screens and other menu insets at the top.
There is some really good music during the opening and then we are left with simple tunes for the rest of the game. Thankfully, music isn’t a huge part of the sound mix, but neither is speech, and you will find yourself reading your options for the dialogue trees.
What you are ultimately left with are the sounds of nature, wind blowing, the surf breaking on the beach, a babbling brook (or raging river), and the occasional seagull. It is here where the sound presentation really shines.
If you really get into this type of survival game then you can easily find a week or more of solid gaming with Lost in Blue. The unforgiving save system will likely have you replaying large portions of the game unless you happen to “get it right” the first try. Given the semi-real-time nature of the gameplay, even surviving that first day is all about memorization of the key ingredients to making a campfire fire and finding the cave in which to make it.
Perhaps I am just spoiled by the unpredictable plots on ABC’s, Lost, but I found no compelling reason to really finish this game. And I didn’t so much care to escape the island as to merely relinquish my custodial duties of the insufferably cheery Skye. She might be able to whip up a mean seaweed salad but she’s not entirely bright or fun to talk with.
Plus, there is a huge upfront learning curve and at least two or three days of island time before you can build up enough surplus to even start exploring the island for fun. If you enjoy meticulous item quests and daily chores just to survive, then go for it. For me, this game was too much like work.