Graphic adventures can’t seem to settle themselves. Most new games seem to have to start at first principles and decide on their own verbs, loops, control scheme, puzzle types, difficulty, hint system… and it feels like there are more misses than hits. Which makes it all the more impressive that developer Happy Juice Games has come up with something that’s coherent, original, and a delight from start to finish.
Lost in Play, the first solo game from the Tel Aviv-based studio, has many of the hallmarks of golden-age point-and-click adventures: a cartoon style, humorously animated protagonists, item-based puzzles, and curiosity-piquing 2D scenes serving as both play space and reward for clearing the previous area. However, it also shakes off many of the classic bugbears: pixel hunting is impossible because you’re moving a character, not a cursor; using no words in the game leaves the hint system to be helpful but not too transparent; there’s very little backtracking because environments are kept small and the time in them is brief; and wacky dream logic is completely excused because you’re playing in children’s imaginations.
These are not necessarily new inventions, but they’re brought together very skilfully, making for a great player experience that avoids common minor irritations. If you’ve ever played a game where a character can’t reach something and you just think, “Well just stretch!”, Lost in Play hears you: the improvised ladder is only ever just barely high enough, and the kids get on their tip-toes to reach what you want. When you traverse four screens of a wide-open expanse, there are only two screens on the way back – Lost in Play simply won’t let you get bored.
There’s constant novelty in every aspect of the game. Puzzles aren’t just the same idea arriving over and over in new clothes; the item- and environment–based puzzles increase in complexity, at one point arriving at a hilarious mash-up of adventure game dependency chart and heist movie planning montage. On top of those core overworld puzzles, there are regular break-outs into separate little games: a board game against a seagull; a monster-escaping logic test; a physics-based skill challenge. Since you’re using a controller, there are brief button-based activities like piloting a vehicle or pumping a power gauge. The difficulty curve is impressively smooth – and although the word-free gameplay and funny animations are very kid-friendly, the trickier minigames will have grown-ups scratching their heads.
Sound design is excellent from the second the game loads into an irresistibly playful finger-clicking a capella and throughout the endearing gibberish spoken by everyone in the game – which is well acted despite being nonsense. The variety of art and animation seems endless, with almost every action having a detailed and playful special sequence in a way golden-age adventure games could never have done.
Over its five-or-so hours, Lost in Play barely puts a foot wrong, delivering cerebral gaming and effervescent entertainment. In doing so, it makes many of the genre’s design challenges look easy. Here’s hoping it inspires and influences future graphic adventures – or at least gets a sequel.