Lost in Blue
It’s not often that I can say I’ve woken up alone in a distant land and have had to fend for myself. In my short but colourful life I’ve so far been living under the relative safety of my parents, getting access to things when needed and never really experiencing anything of a crisis. So I’ve often wondered what it would be like to suddenly find myself fending off mother nature and her perils for my own safety, having to hunt my own food and start my own fires. If Ray Mears has taught me anything from his many DVDs then it’s to plan ahead and take things in small steps; what better advice than this for my game of choice, Lost in Blue.
I’m not quite sure how our meeting came about. Maybe I was in one of those moods in a games shop one day when I was itching to find something to play on my new handheld system, and found myself lured into the box-art. I hate admitting defeat to commercialism and their dirty tactics, but it worked like a charm, love at first sight if you will. I’ve grown up on Harvest Moon, a series that I hold in high regard, and so it’s second nature to pause and reflect on what needs to be done. Only Lost in Blue is so much more complex but entirely more relaxing.
My favourite little farming game keeps pushing players forward, with the only reprieve being the pause button. There are crops to buy, plant and then water, girls to woo with expensive gifts and conversations, power berries to locate, money to make and a host of many other side quests to keep your attention as the day quickly turns to night. Time, as they say, waits for no man. And the same applies to Lost in Blue; there’s water to collect, food to gather, an island to explore, all within strict time restraints. To the unsuspecting gamer this island of paradise set in hell is an impossible mission, but it’s only when you get into the mindset of a survivor and set yourself stringent rules that the game opens up and swallows your time.
You can’t achieve everything in the space of a day, and so the key to survival begins in identifying the key problems and possible ways to conquer them. Taking a minute or two to reflect on your findings on the island pays dividends, because your survivor, Kenneth, has Sims – like needs that have to be attended to, these being hunger, thirst and energy. You can afford to let one of these dependancies run low for a while but let all three dry out and your character’s health points begin to plummet until you’re just another heap of bones on this deserted tropical island. And if keeping on top of these sounds daunting, you’ve a friend to look after as well – Skye. Kenneth finds our helpless heroine on the second day after taking refuge from the storm in a cave. Coming across Skye introduces a responsibility to the player – you can’t just live off the land, you now have to gather food and resources and bring them back to the cave to look after your relatively weak female friend.
With this in mind, Lost in Blue appears rather daunting. And that’s before you realise that each day brings different weather with changing humidity. A dry hot day dehydrates both characters quicker, whereas a wet boggy storm requires more energy to carry on walking with damp and heavy clothing. Tides even make entire areas inaccessible, and taking the plunge to get to valuable resources can leave you stranded for hours until it’s safe to cross back – that’s hours alone for the weak and vulnerable Skye.
It’s not all doom and gloom, however. Eating what you come across you’ll be able to venture a little further each time, gradually finding new foods and resources to make life a little easier. There are utensils to find which adds extra wellness at meal times, making plentiful coconuts gathered from the beach taste that little bit more bearable. Extra items are washed up on shore too, at one point you’ll gain ownership of a plastic bottle, perfect for storing small quantities of water to quench your thirst on those long foraging journeys. As your characters stock up, more areas become accessible through exploration. The island itself is a fair size, and without wishing to spoil things you’ll gain access to wild animals and further bush-craft materials. Vines, for example, are a valuable commodity. You can make ropes to descend down cliffs to get to those hard-to-reach places, or pair it with a stick and sharp bone to make a fishing rod. As you progress through the game, things become a little easier with these tools – at first you’ll be standing in the river throwing a makeshift spear at anything that moves, but soon enough you’ll be checking traps twice daily for food which frees up energy for clambering around elsewhere.
Lost in Blue is hugely rewarding for the avid adventurer. I defy those who don’t breathe a sigh of relief after successfully trapping their first wild boar or bringing home their first domesticated chicken, especially after a week living off potato, carrot and seaweed stew. In the first days of arrival it’ll be a huge struggle to stave off hunger and keep energy levels up. You won’t be pushing boulders and scaling hills living on a diet of clams and coconuts, but by locating stones and strong sticks you’ll soon have a spear with which to hunt fish with, bamboo enables Skye to weave trapping baskets and so on and so forth. Each small step uncovers another source of information or resource that makes life that tiny bit easier than the day before.
The Nintendo DS has its fair share of glory titles with their excellent graphical techniques, and Lost in Blue isn’t far behind. Though simple and easy on the eye, it gets the job done without being too bland as to ruin the experience. Areas with lush foliage and the like can make it a little hard to distinguish key items, but luckily Kenneth will throw in a thought bubble when coming across something that requires attention.
Activities such as fishing with a rod or shooting with your bow and arrow switch to a first person view in which you’ll use the DS’s unique control methods to overcome the situation, such as pressing the shoulder buttons in succession to run sticks together to create fire, and then blow into the microphone to fan the tiny flames and set the ball rolling. Fishing with a spear has you stabbing with the stylus to harpoon prey, and digging up clams and root vegetables requires some sweeping back and forth on the touch screen. Bizarrely the game only uses the stylus and microphone during these activities, all other methods of play such as movement and climbing are controlled by the face buttons, meaning you’ve to hold the stylus between your fingers whilst you play for when it’s needed.
There are other minor problems too. Whilst you have to slowly train Skye to cook for you, she never seems to grasp basic recipes for the food that you bring back home. A chicken and a few potatoes, for example, brought up a potato salad and a strange broth; clearly the girl has never tasted chicken ‘n’ chips before. As you progress through the island several items become obtainable with the idea being you can leave Skye to her own devices without having to check back on her during the day, so you can go off hunting for a few days. These item includes a water barrel so she has access to fresh water, a basket for sticks to keep the fire going and a shelf for food. But many times you’ll be crouching in the undergrowth waiting for a chicken to become ensnared in your cunning trap, only to watch Skye’s status on the top screen plummet. After a hurried race back to the cave you’ll fine her standing in between the fully-stocked shelf and water barrel, dehydrated, starving and without a fire. She must be blonde, she has to be.
The only other problem players will face are the lengthy trips to and from the cave from other parts of the island, which involve a lot of climbing and descending rocks and ledges, navigating paths and some easy navigating. These can become tiresome, especially with Skye randomly forgetting to look after herself, but soon enough you’ll find yet another advanced method to makes things a little easier.
It’s not often that a survival game comes along for review, in fact I can’t quite remember one for years that demanded such planning and ruthlessness as Lost in Blue What’s nice is that players can amble through life on the island as they see fit. There’s no given time limit for discovering new things, although Skye will remind you and request that you look for certain items form time to time. It’s a nice, gentle breeze of a game that loves to lure you into a false sense of security. Yes, sure, investigate what’s over the next hill, but don’t leave yourself too far from water and make sure you’ve stocked up on food, because otherwise it’ll be game over by the next valley.
This sort of title obviously can’t cater for all gamers, as those looking for Far Cry “let’s get the bastards” induced tomfoolery will be bitterly disappointed at the chore and laid back nature of Lost in Blue The fact that the third in the series is set to release next month shows that the little island in the middle of nowhere has captured a few hearts along the way and, like Harvest Moon, looks set to become something of a classic.