Lost In Blue (Nintendo DS) Review

Click here to visit the Lost In Blue (Nintendo DS) description page for screenshots, save files, and more information.

Review by tankMage (November 2017)

Score: B-

 Lost In Blue is a roller coaster ride of a game and not in the good way. There were points where I absolutely loved this title and considered it one of the hidden treasures of the Nintendo DS. At other points I hated it. This is due to the fact that Lost In Blue isn’t quite what one would expect from a survival title. Sure, there’s plenty of foraging, hunting, fishing, and exploration to be done, but the player is also forced to complete a tedious gauntlet of puzzles. On top of that Keith and Skye (the heroes) have the fortitude of octogenarians and begin to wither away after just a single day of not eating or drinking. As a result, this title is tremendously grindy and it is pretty clear that the developers were trying to drag the game out as much as possible to make it seem longer; a decision that was totally unnecessary since there are at least six endings and three different story modes. Lost In Blue did manage to redeem itself in many ways and is one of those niche titles that made the Nintendo DS so special. On a side note, I’ll be honest and admit that I only completed the first storyline, by then I had my fill of grinding and had no interest in spending another sixty hours picking through the unlockable modes.

Story

   First off the premise of this game is great. You play as a young man named Keith who survives a shipwreck and washes up on the shore of an uninhabited island. Eventually Keith encounters encounters another survivor named Skye (who you can play the game as after completing Keith’s story) and the two have to rely on one another to stay alive. Now, the plot opens up some great opportunities for character development and story progression, but Lost In Blue is a bit light in the dialogue department. The protagonists say little about their backgrounds and interact with each other in the most mundane ways possible. The translation is also bland and bereft of personality. There are a few points were the duo’s relationship developes and they make a few vague statements about their lives, but that’s about it. This game would have been far more interesting if the devs spiced things up a bit, like having Skye and Keith dislike one another or giving them interesting back stories. The various endings range from heartwarming to tragic, which is to the game’s credit.

   I would say that it’s a plus that the characters don’t spend hours whining about their past lives or current plight, but Keith whines constantly throughout the entire game in another manner. Both Skye and Keith have meters that gauge their thirst, hunger, and exhaustion. When these meters start to get low, Keith starts bitching…constantly. In fact he will not only complain for himself, but for Skye as well! This all occurs in the midst of action, so you’ll see speech bubbles saying things like “I’m hungry.” while hunting or trying to push blocks around. Keith’s constant complaints make the infamous “What a horrible night for a curse!” textbox from Simon’s Quest seem like a piece of brilliant game design. The only saving grace is that keeping Keith and Skye’s meters above 30% will make him shut up, but trust me, that’s not possible until you’ve had your fill of his moaning.

Shaddap you face already!

   Fortunately the actual progression of events is interesting and players can choose from several outcomes. In fact, there were some things that I just didn’t see coming and the final portion of the game was a lot of fun. The only downside here is that many of the island’s surprises feel arbitrary, because the devs didn’t bother to elaborate on details concerning the island’s past. The final area had perhaps some of the most creative plot devices I’ve seen in a video game, however, and it was intertwined with the actual gameplay quite cleverly. So, while the ride to the end may be bumpy, it’s worth it if you are the patient type.

Graphics

   The Nintendo DS isn’t exactly the best handheld for 3D graphics, but Lost In Blue looks good in its own right. Sure, everything is a bit blocky and low resolution, but the devs made due with what the DS was capable of and the game has a sort of modest charm to it as a result. There’s also some variety to the island, which I expected to be all beach and jungle. Players get to explore grasslands, a rocky lakeside, and a few other areas (which I’ll leave as a surprise) as well. It’s not much, but this game needs all the help it can get. Skye and Keith look like your usual anime youths and don’t really stand out in terms of originality, but their 3D character models are designed competently enough. Heck, they look more human than most 3D PS1 characters. They were also animated surprisingly well and their movements are fairly natural looking as a result. The same can be said for much of the flora and fauna, though I found some of the vegetables, like potatoes and onions, are little strange looking… maybe they are Japanese varieties?

Is this a potato plant or a monster from a 1950’s horror film?

User Interface

    If there’s one thing Konami  did right with this game it’s the controls, especially the touch screen interface. The traditional controls are intuitive and responsive, although many actions are context sensitive and the game can be a bit finicky. The A button is generally used to perform actions and the player’s options change depending on the situation. For instance, the A button will make Keith pick up a coconut if he is standing over one, but can also command him to scale cliffs, light fires, or talk to Skye if he happens to be near any of these objects. Usually it works well, but sometimes it can be tricky getting Keith to talk to Skye in a cave crowded with stuff or pick up that coconut if you aren’t standing right on top of it.

   As for the touch screen interface, the devs made use of it in a number of creative ways. Tapping a tree will make Keith grab it and you can shake things out of it by swiping your finger back and forth across the screen. Plants and other goodies can be dug up in a similar manner. You even need to blow into the mic to light fires. The only downside are the crafting minigames, that are a bit too unforgiving. Players will have to perform certain actions using the touchscreen to build furniture and the cues come fast, leaving little margin for error. Furniture building often requires the player to draw circles on the touchscreen and I’ve always had a problem doing so on the DS…to this day I’m not sure if it’s due to my crappy art skills or just a shortcoming of the system. Luckily, players can quicksave before attempting to build something and restart if they fail, so it’s a relatively minor issue.

Music and Sound

   There’s nothing monumentally great about Lost In Blue’s score, but i I still liked it.  Ambience is often substituted for background music, which really draws the player into the experience. I was a bit surprised by the quality and variety of the game’s ambient sound effects, which range from rustling grass to the sound of waves lapping against the beach. Mixed in with this are the game’s sound effects, some of which are animal calls and others are the sort of auditory cues placed into games for dramatic effect. The sound effects are some of the best I’ve encountered in a while and seem like they were made specifically for this title and not just taken out of Konami’s stock effects bin, though i could be wrong here. Either way, Lost In Blue should prove pleasing to the ears.

Gameplay

  Skye and Keith have to survive on a desert island, so obtaining food and water are priorities as well as maintaining a regular sleep cycle. Players can craft tools, such as fishing spears and traps to help make surviving easier. Both Keith and Skye have their own skills and must rely on each other to stay alive. Generally, Keith hunts and gathers food, Skye cooks and makes things. Exploration is a secondary goal set by the game and players can unlock new content by visiting different areas on the island. Many of the actions players will perform take the form of mini games. For example, fishing with a spear requires the player to tap the screen in order to skewer passing fish. Overall, the gameplay is interesting and creative, but it’s also troubled by some poor design choices.

The Coneheads ain’t got nothin’ on these mofos.

   Let’s talk about the meters first. Time passes quickly in this game, I think an in-game minute is roughly equivalent to a real second, which isn’t really a problem in and of itself. The thirst and exhaustion meters aren’t too much of a problem either, since it is realistic to expect someone to begin to suffer the effects of dehydration or exhaustion after only a day or two of deprivation. Ultimately it’s the hunger meter that’s problematic, because it drops just as rapidly as the other two. Have you ever heard of a presumably healthy, well nourished person starving death after not eating for a day and a half? I haven’t, but that’s precisely what happens in Lost In Blue. Ok, to be fair the protagonists don’t just drop dead if they don’t eat for a day, but they start to die after not eating for roughly twenty four hours and will only last another day unless you eat… and oh, boy do they eat. Skye and Keith often need to consume enough food to feed a family of four to fill their stomachs for a single day. In fact an entire deer only yields enough meat to feed the duo for a day, if you are lucky. I know teenagers eat a lot, but damn. To be fair, Skye becomes a better cook as the game goes on, which means her food is somehow more filling, plus it is possible to dry meat and stock up on supplies, so feeding the heroes becomes less tiresome. However, this issue cascades into just about every other aspect of the game essentially placing the player on an unforgiving timer that doesn’t even have the virtue of being realistic.

   Before I get to the good aspects of LIB’s gameplay (Yes there are a few), I have to talk about the block puzzles. In a word, they suck. To be more precise, they suck the fun out of the game. There are nine puzzles of increasing complexity that the player must pass through in order to progress. Now, sliding block puzzles are not a bad thing by themselves: timeless classics like Legend of Zelda have the player moving blocks around. It’s the unforgivably lazy way the puzzles are implemented into the game and how they interact with the hunger mechanic that makes them tedious. The player has to solve these puzzles in order to progress and just getting to them is a resource draining journey that can take in-game days to prepare for. What’s worse is some of the puzzles are quite tricky and can take several attempts to solve, which means you’re likely going to run out of time and be forced to return to Skye. Remember, this game involves a lot of grinding to begin with and I had already spent roughly 80 in-game days working my way up to this point. The last thing I wanted to see was more grinding. Of course these puzzles are thrown without any real explanation or reason for them being there, aside from the fact that someone at Konami was trying to extend the playtime for marketing purposes.

   Now, the good aspects of this game made up for the wretchedly tedious hunger mechanics and puzzle section to some degree. There are a variety of ways to acquire food and if the player doesn’t like one method, he or she can rely on the others. This kept what was essentially a grind from being overly painful and even made it satisfying at times, since some animals require a fair bit of luck and skill to catch. Secrets also abound in this game and is surprising just how much hidden stuff there is to find on the tiny island. I spent some time talking about the minigames in the User Interface section of this review, so I’ll just add that they helped keep things interesting. Finally Lost In Blue turns into a sort of stealth game towards the end. Sneaking around and avoiding danger while trying to find a way off of the island was perhaps the highpoint of the game where every aspect of this title came together quite beautifully (I’d describe it more, but that would ruin the surprise). There is also quite a bit of freedom in Lost In Blue, since it’s something of a sandbox game and players can choose from several different ways to escape or just live on the island indefinitely.

   I would should also add that this game is very easy to exploit. The quicksave feature is easy to abuse, but I’d consider that a good thing, since it can potentially cut back on some of the grinding. It’s also possible to use glitches to duplicate items and you can even freeze the meters by just staring at the ground, which can get players through some nasty situations…hmmm maybe I shouldn’t have mentioned that. At any rate, these bugs and oversights are pretty neutral, since they don’t break the game unless the player goes out of his or her way to capitalize on them.

Final Thoughts

   This title really could have been something had the devs added more of the good stuff and tweaked the mechanics a bit to make them slightly less severe. For those interested in playing this title, stick with it through the more tedious parts if you enjoyed the beginning, because the game gets better towards the end. Interestingly, this game is supposedly a sequel to Survival Kids on the Game Boy Advance and there are two more Lost In Blue Games for the DS, so hopefully the series built upon the positive aspects of this title. I actually remember considering purchasing Lost In Blue back in the DS’s heyday and skipping it in favor of other games. In retrospect, I’m glad I skipped this game back then (there were better things to play), but it was worth giving a shot years later for the sake of curiosity.

Recommendations

Anyone looking for something different should give this one a try. Just be warned: Lost In Blue is not a pick up and play Nintendo DS game and those who play it will need luck, skill, and patience to succeed.

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