Two handheld generations ago, in 1999, Konami brought out a game called Survival Kids for the Game Boy Color. The game involved the player controlling a character trying to survive and escape an island on which he had been shipwrecked. The game spawned a sequel, also on GBC, in a similar vein. Now, with the advent of the Nintendo DS, Konami has decided to throw their support behind the new handheld with the latest in the series, Lost in Blue.
Lost in Blue is much like Survival Kids in terms of premise; the player controls the protagonist who has been shipwrecked on an island. Working together with a young girl, they must survive off the land and escape the island. If the idea sounds simple, it’s because it really is. You get to play Robinson Crusoe while searching for a way off the island. Along the way, you’ll learn to make simple tools, cook, hunt, do carpentry, and solve a few puzzles. But, simple as it sounds, I should really expand upon that.
As the game opens up, you find yourself in control of Keith, a young boy who has been shipwrecked on an island after a bad storm. You are hungry, thirsty, and tired, and so you must find food quickly. As you wander the island, you find coconuts that you can pick up and eat, which somewhat satiate your hunger and thirst. As nightfall approaches, you begin to tire, and as necessity is the mother of invention, you wind up learning how to make fire from twigs and bark.
The next day, you wind up meeting another person, a young girl named Skye who was also shipwrecked. After accidentally stepping on her glasses, you become responsible for helping her around the island, as her eyesight is rather poor. Fortunately for you, she can cook, opening up a wider variety of foodstuffs. From then on, you and Skye work together to survive and escape the island.
Of course, there is more to the story than just that. There is character interaction, albeit not as much as I expected. During the course of the game, Keith and Skye develop a relationship, and depending on how you talk to and treat her, Skye can become anything from a friend to a romantic interest. The downside is that the significant, plot-moving interactions are few and far-between, and most rely on you making certain types of progress during the game. For example, it’s not until you complete certain carpentry tasks that you will get relationship-building dialogue options, and said carpentry tasks can take a while to complete as you collect the raw materials. I won’t say that the plot moves slowly, as it really is controlled by how efficient and skillful the player is, but for those of you out there who, like me, can be slow learners, you may get outright bored.
One nice thing about the game’s story, however, is that after playing through Keith’s quest, you can play the game from the viewpoint of Skye, which opens up new options such as the ability to control the cooking aspects, recipes, and other things that Keith leaves to her in his own quest. Still, aside from that factor, the replay value from a story point of view is rather lackluster.
Gameplay is just the opposite of story, though; while story elements are sparse, gameplay elements are frequent and repetitive. Now obviously gameplay is going to be there, but the nature of the gameplay involves repetition and routine. I’d compare it to a Harvest Moon title, only instead of farming, you’re hunting, gathering, and building. Unfortunately, the problem I have with Harvest Moon titles is that I enjoy it at first, but the almost forced repetition of tasks burns me out quickly. Here’s how it works…
Both Keith and Skye have four meters: health, fatigue, hunger, and thirst. As the day goes on and you move around, your hunger, thirst, and fatigue meters begin to drop. When thirst is at 0% you can’t eat, when hunger is at 0% your fatigue drops faster, and when fatigue is at 0% your HP starts to drop. When HP reaches 0%, you die. So the player has to go around the island picking up items on the ground such as fruits that have fallen from trees and shellfish from the ground. Eventually you get the ability to fish and hunt, as well. Food restores your hunger meter, and in some cases it restores thirst as well, and when you give certain combinations of edible items to Skye, she can cook them and you can both eat them for extra nutrition.
Of course, you’ll have to make sure that you keep yourself in supplies to make more fishing rods, spears, and bows/arrows, which means scavenging for those items, as well as twigs for firewood. And don’t forget the items you need to do carpentry so you can gain more energy from resting, get tasks done quicker, etc. In short, most of a game “day” is spent performing these types of tasks for the first few weeks of your stay on the island. If you cannot stand repetition, you will probably get tired of Lost in Blue’s gameplay before you even get the story rolling, and since such a big part of the game is keeping your stats up, it’s not something you can ignore, either.
One aspect that I should touch on before moving off of gameplay is the use of the stylus for the game. As proved by Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow, Konami seems to be of the mindset that a game on the DS must use the touch screen features even if the game doesn’t really benefit from it. Lost in Blue merely hammers that point home, as the use of the stylus is not all that integral to the gameplay. In fact, I’d say there’s only one place where the stylus is used that it truly is needed, and that is for spear fishing. Everything else could have been done on GBA equally well.
Much like the stylus features, the graphics in Lost in Blue were a reiteration that this game didn’t need to be made on the DS. Lost in Blue’s visuals are nothing special. The textures are very low-quality, evoking memories of 1st generation PlayStation titles. The character models seemed to be something between sprites and polygons; these models decently portrayed the characters, if a bit on the super-deformed side. However, nothing about the game’s graphics made me think that Konami was using the powers of the DS past the basics; no fancy special effects, no dynamic lighting, even the character designs were your standard anime fare.
And musically, the game doesn’t even reach the level of mediocrity. There aren’t many tracks to speak of, just mainly the title theme and short, 10 second intros when you enter a new area. Where I found the game really shined, however, was in the sound effects; everything from birds to rushing waterfalls sounded above average for the console, and although everything was coming out of the tinny little DS speakers, they did a very good job of creating authentic environments.
As a final note, the control scheme was decent, if not slightly inaccurate. Stylus issues aside, the game’s controls were both oversensitive and inaccurate. Many a time I would walk over to a stream and press the button to drink, only to see my character spend a few seconds teetering on the edge because I pushed the control pad a pixel too far. It’s not a big problem (he can’t actually fall), but it winds up wasting a few minutes of game time having to watch animations and waste energy.
When it comes down to it, Lost in Blue has its appeal, especially to those folks who enjoy the Harvest Moon series, or those who enjoyed Survival Kids on the GBC. There is comfort in repetition, and it’s really not all that bad once you get the story rolling (although it pretty much ends soon after you do). While it probably didn’t need to be made on Nintendo DS, Lost in Blue will give you about 15 good hours of gameplay as Keith, and a few more as Skye…though it is probably worth renting first. Try before you buy.