Adventure seekers have been lost adrift with their Nintendo DS systems, waiting for somebody to save them with any of the role-playing games or adventures that Japanese players are cozily enjoying on the new system. We're finally finding dry land this month with the release of Nintendo's Trace Memory and Konami's new Lost in Blue, two highly-anticipated adventure games that use the Nintendo DS for unique experiences along the journey. Of the two, Lost in Blue is the more venturesome and resourceful. But it's also a demanding and wearying game, and not everyone will survive to see the end of it.
Expanding on Konami's GBC sleeper classic RPG Survival Kids Lost in Blue strands you and a similarly-aged young girl on a deserted island with nothing but your wits and your instincts to save the two of you. Every day is a challenge to face when you're alone and have nothing to sustain you, but the island is full of everything you'll need to stay alive -- if you can find it and grab it. As the days pass on, you'll grow more comfortable in your home, with make-shift tools and weapons allowing you to create traps, hunt for meat, store supplies to get through harsh weather, and cook filling meals. Just making it through the day is hard enough, but you will eventually find the strength to be able to explore the island and search for some way to get home.
The survival role-playing aspect of the game completely dominates Lost in Blue. This makes the game unique, but it also can try the patience of even dedicated RPG outdoorsmen. Each day, you will hunt, fish and scrounge for food and needs, and no matter how well you build your home and prepare yourself with more permanent means of sustenance, there's still a good amount of daily homework you have to endure every time you turn your DS on. Those tasks weigh you down as you yearn to explore the island, and it'll take a day or two of dedicated preparation to be able to go out into the unknown. The island itself isn't very big by itself, but you have little time to allow yourself to just go and see it all.
It doesn't help that your female companion is hopeless without you. Skye is plenty resourceful when you're around -- she can cook up a hell of a meal with just some mushrooms, a few coconuts, maybe some taro root, and a little salt found on the beach, and she can also make baskets and weave ropes for you to use -- but if you leave her for too long, she's a goner. You can set her up with a jug full of water and a shelter stocked with supplies, but even though the game has the option to tell her you'll be gone for a few days, you'd better start getting back when the 24 hour game clock starts cycling the day or else you'll come home to a dead girl. The game's story explains some of why she's so useless on her own (a little 'oopsie' on your part has made her dependent on you), but the way it works out feels much less like survival teamwork and much more like babysitting.
Konami's development team has found creative ways to use the Nintendo DS in bringing this adventure to life, but it's not always a successful creation. The touchscreen allows you to dig in and forage for tubers and clams, digging in the dirt or sand by rubbing on the screen. You will also be fishing and hunting by touch, tapping the screen to snare your prey. Building a fire is a particularly strenuous exercise, as you tap the shoulder buttons to rhythmically spin the firestarter, then lean into your DS and blow (on the microphone) to give it air and start the flame. Physically interacting with the game is fun the first 20 times or so ... after that, it's just another part of the daily drudgery. Some of the more complex challenges were also surprisingly challenging for a game that is primarily an RPG. Building furniture, for instance, has you quickly whipping strokes on the touchscreen to fast-moving commands (much like a game of Dance Dance Revolution), and if you fail, the building materials are broken. It doesn't help that these challenges are played with only a tiny little box to draw shapes on, and the stylus accuracy isn't perfect to begin with (the difference between where we tapped the screen while fishing and where the character stabbed his spear was miles apart in some cases. Oh, the tales we could tell about the ones that got away...)
You play most of the game with the D-Pad, but you've got to have the stylus handy at all times for the touch play. We would have rather had the whole game just played with the touchpad and D-Pad -- especially since the context-sensitive commands aren't always accurate. If Skye is standing over near the woodpile and I want to talk with her, I've often got to grab her by the hand and pull her away, or else I'll just go staring at the woodpile. The start-and-stop play with the stylus gets annoying quickly, and the developers didn't really set the screen up right to mix the two play styles. You'll quickly give up searching the ground for crabs or shaking the trees for dropped goodies, for instance, because you will tap the screen to make something happen, but you can't go back to the main screen without pressing a button -- even if you just want to move five feet down the beach and check again. We really wanted to explore more of Lost in Blue, to experiment and find our own way of surviving. This really isn't the way the game is played, unfortunately. You have a lot of options, but except for the things that make you sick or work better with something else, most of the stuff you collect work the same as anything else in your pack. Whether you're collecting edible mushrooms, crabs, berries or meat, it's all stat management once you've cooked it up. There's not a lot of interesting stuff to pick up, despite a complete tool building set-up to make needed things. Similarly, the dialog tree with Skye, despite there being different endings depending on how you two get along, don't allow a lot of flexibility. After a month of gametime being on the island together, we felt mean and wanted to yell at her for taking so long cooking and eating (why there isn't a quick-skip for this sequences, we have no clue), but she was always just so danged cheery no matter what dialog option we chose.
Your stay on the island does come with a view to enjoy. Every further venture deeper into the island unveils new places to take in, and after days of staring at the same lake bottom and woodland spread, breaking out to find something new is refreshing and rewarding thanks to the game's attractive island world. The game's 3D world engine doesn't push Lost in Blue beyond what a 2D game could have just as easily done -- this island was carved at 45 degree and right angles -- but the range of areas and the simple effects used to bring them to life are enough to get you through while you work to be rescued. Some sparse slowdown when both characters were on screen together didn't really affect the pace of the already slow play. The sound quality is a little disappointing with its simple music and few voice-overs from the characters, but you'll be spending most of your time listening to the sounds of the ocean and the winds through the grass, and the stereo effects work well in the relative quiet.
©2005, IGN Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved