Lost at Sea is a walking simulator that deals with loss and facing the reality of mortality. The game presents the heavy emotional themes in a very real and relatable way. I’ve definitely experienced very similar situations myself and have seen others gone through them as well. I guess I’m getting old. And while I do appreciate games that veer from familiar territory for less traveled paths, unfortunately the game play of Lost at Sea is very lacking.
The game is basically a series of fetch quests on a deserted island. You encounter an area that represents a stage of life and then you go find memories scattered across the island to complete that stage. Each memory is a small mini game, also representing something as well. The issue is that the game is designed around creating metaphors for everything first, and the game play came second. There is no coherent design to the game and this creates situations where it isn’t quite clear what it is you need to do to finish that particular mini game or why you are doing it in the first place. It creates a feeling that the developers had in mind a metaphor for a stage in life and then slapped together a mini game for it instead of creating a mechanic and progression from the ground up.
For example, one mini game has you touching balloons before they pop. Another has you jumping up on a trampoline and touching orbs. Another one has you protecting a pair of floating shoes from flying red orbs and brick walls. Another one has you touching blocks to keep them in the air. This is supposed to represent juggling all aspects of life such as family, work, and etc. There’s really no coherent mechanic or progression linking each of these mini games.
While I do recognize what each mini game is representing, the issue is that they are not very fun to play. It’s very time consuming and doesn’t build upon the core of this game, the heavy emotional themes of loss, growing older, facing mortality, and learning to let go of things you have no control over. If anything, having too many of these mini games detract from developing the main themes.
On top of this is another tedious task of having to literally face your fears. A purple orb comes flying at you and you must look at it otherwise it will touch you and you will respawn at the closest stage of life. It’s tedious and doesn’t add to the game play because it impedes you from freely exploring the island. I understand the design as a metaphor, it’s just not fun.
And that is the issue at heart here. The game is fantastic in presenting very real and deep emotional themes. The more I played the game, the more I could relate to it. It definitely struck very close to home during some parts. But it’s not fun. The minigames feel slapped on and there is no core mechanic that you learn and master as you progress through the game. It all feels tedious and more of a distraction. I feel like the game would have definitely benefited from more streamlining and keeping the focus on the themes rather than random mini games.
Overall, Lost at Sea is a good attempt at trying to create a more emotionally mature game but falls short in the game play department. I genuinely mean it when I say I’m glad these types of games exist. Having more variety in game design is a great thing. However, well designed and thought out game play and mechanics should not be sacrificed for artistic vision. You can have both, it just takes a lot of elbow grease.