I loved it. I hated it. I still can't make up my mind.
Lost in Blue is a rare game: one that has brilliant vision and dismal design choices in perfectly equal amounts. Its good and evil halves are so finely balanced, in fact, that I can't decide whether I should celebrate or revile it.
I suppose the fact that it's so hard to delineate and categorize ultimately represents something of a victory for both the developers and aficionados of projects that test the boundaries of what games should be. Still, there's something to be said for the virtues of fluid play and enjoyment… things Lost in Blue delivers in small quantities to be savored between long, dry stretches of tedium.
The concept is golden—the main character, an athletic boy named Keith, washes ashore on a desert island after a shipwreck. The goal: to stay alive. He soon meets a fellow survivor, a nearsighted girl named Skye. The pair begin to scratch out a tenuous existence by using a cave as home base, gathering twigs and bark to start a fire, and becoming the main predators of clams living on the nearby beach.
I absolutely love the idea of playing a game that is so different from what usually comes down the pike, and this Robinson Crusoe premise won me over the first time around—Lost in Blue is a part-sequel, part-recreation of the game Survival Kids which appeared on the Game Boy Color in 1999. With so much time passing between the two titles, it goes without saying that Lost in Blue does everything that Kids did, and does it better.
The thing that grabbed me (about both games, really) was that common sense plays a strong role at the beginning. I could easily imagine washing ashore the way Keith does, and his actions in the game mirror what I would do myself. Food and water would be immediate necessities, shelter coming soon after. Scavenging along the sand for food and usable items is a totally logical thing to do, and moving on to explore the island's interior makes perfect sense once basic needs have been met. Any time a game is able to structure itself (even partially) in a real-world way, it instantly gets bonus points from me. So few titles do it that I have to reward and savor the ones that do.
Although coming to grips with survival on the island was initially captivating, the novelty (and logic) soon wears off. Quite frankly, Lost in Blue requires a massive amount of patience and a strong ability to tolerate repetition. I suppose that in this respect it's extremely successful in replicating what it must actually feel like to be stranded on a desert island without any amenities or resources. The word "hopeless" certainly comes to mind. Without changing the basic nature of the game or making it too easy, my opinion is that the developers could have made some concessions towards players in order to make the overall experience less tiresome.
For example, Skye is totally unconvincing as a character because she is so helpless. Great pains must be taken to make sure that she does not starve or die of thirst when left unattended, even though food and water are readily available just a few steps outside the cave entrance. Having her be capable of simple tasks like cave maintenance and self-care would have been a great help—perhaps training her to do so could have been an added play element.
It was also maddening to see how quickly the characters became hungry or thirsty. If I eat a good breakfast, I'm usually good until dinner time with just a snack here or there. In Lost in Blue, it felt like I was constantly shoveling food into a hole and literally watching the nutrients burn up before my eyes. Although it's a central mechanic, too much time and effort was spent on food gathering and managing Keith's health and stamina. Doing so is not very entertaining and can be extremely demanding at times, often to the point that I wanted to just stop playing the game instead of going through another lightspeed food/starvation cycle. I understand why they did it this way, but I felt like the developers got a little carried away here.
Lost in Blue doesn't give players a lot of slack, and making progress exploring the island (or just establishing a comfortable environment in the cave) can seem more like torture then a pleasurable videogame experience. Still, although a little less repetition and a gentler difficulty curve at the beginning would have been nice, I have to admit that I did see Keith and Skye's struggle on the island as something of a personal challenge and I'm glad that I saw it through to the end. I wasn't completely sure I'd get there, though.
Deciding where to draw the line between survival reality and videogame fantasy must have been a great challenge to the Konami Hawaii developers when it came time to balance the elements that make up Lost in Blue. It's obviously not the average shoot-'em-up or platformer, and I have nothing but the highest respect for the concept. I may not have agreed—or even enjoyed—many of the choices that were made and implemented in the final product, but I have to admit that I'd usually take a flawed, unusual experience like Lost in Blue over most of the inspiration-free stuff clogging shelves today.
Still… let's make those coconuts just a wee bit more filling next time, shall we?