Review-- Lost Words: Beyond the Page

Lost Words: Beyond the Page by Plug In Digital

This game is IF. If anyone wants to challenge me on that, we’ll have a bloody battle that I’ll win, standing over your broken body screaming in triumph.

It’s a video game with gorgeous graphics, a traditional side-scrolling platformer. But it’s also IF. It’s a great example of the kind of IF/video game hybrid I’m always banging on about that could actually be commercially viable. The art is some of the prettiest I’ve seen in a while, which is good, because this is a game where you spend a lot of time walking, not doing anything, just reading (or listening to, if you’re someone who is not me) the story as it unfolds.

It’s told from the POV of a young girl-- Izzy-- dealing with grief, loss, and depression. It’s suitable for children if they’re old enough to deal with a very sad story. At first it comes across as too young for an adult audience, but the themes it deals with are very mature, so as the complexity of the story grew I felt it was fine for an older audience. It’s quite long, and the narrative and gameplay are split. Our young protagonist writes in her journal about her life, and the text of her journal is interactive. She’s writing a story about a girl who has a traditional save-the-world adventure, and after spending some time with Izzy’s journal, we become the heroine of Izzy’s story as she writes it, which is where the game turns into a platformer. But here, too, is interactive text, with magic words that can be used on objects in the game world. There’s often a feel of a choice-based IF game here, too; there are many places where you can choose the text of the path you take. The game is told in text all throughout, and there is voice narration, which I didn’t use as I prefer to read (I think I’ve already dropped a few jaws by saying that I don’t care for sound in my games).

We go back and forth between Izzy’s journal and her evolving story, and it’s really lovely how the two worlds blend and part, showing us how Izzy’s devastating situation is informing her story, and how writing the story is helping her work through her trauma. This is the most successful aspect of the game.

LW:BtP succeeds better at being IF than it does at being a video game. While the graphics are fantastic, the gameplay is extremely simple, with only a few challenging moments in a story that took me about four hours to complete. If you are looking for a game that requires dexterity and fast reflexes, or difficult puzzle-solving, this is not it. And to be frank, I felt it dragged at times, what with all that walking through the lovely landscapes and thinking. In the sections that were in Izzy’s journal, I never felt bored, however, and I always delighted in the clever interactivity of the text.

You can get the first 2 (of 8) chapters for free, and the rest you have to pay for. I played it on my iPad, and to be honest, I didn’t look at the price because I’ll pay anything for games and books. But whatever the price was, it was worth it. This was a really fine game which I thought bridged IF and video gaming very well. I recommend it and I’d love to hear others’ thoughts on it. This is the kind of thing that could make IF profitable, y’all.


I wrote up the PC version a couple of years ago: Zarf Updates: 2021 IGF nominees: exploding with delight

I thought it was closer in spirit to “story devices” like Device 6 or Gorogoa than to parser IF. But those games do get called interactive fiction in the broader sense.


I know you’ve explained this term before-- I think it’s your own term? Can you define it for me again? I loved both Device 6 and Gorogoa passionately, and Device 6 is very obviously IF while I don’t think I would classify Gorogoa that way. If a broad definition of IF is “games that rely heavily on text as the gameplay mechanism,” then Gorogoa wouldn’t count, as I don’t think there’s any text at all in the game. So I’m not sure I follow how a “story device” relates (or doesn’t) to IF.

LT:BtW is clearly closer to choice-based IF than to parser IF, but if any parser authors want to make some money, I think it behooves them to think of ways in which their stories could be translated to a more hybridized version. I know you violently hate this idea, but IMO Hadean Lands is a poster child for such a hybridization. My own games less so, although I think Of Their Shadows Deep could be altered, since it already relies on text graphics.


This should be on the masthead of The Rosebush.


I hereby gift it to you. You’ll make a fortune off the swag.


It is my own term, but I’ve never gotten much beyond “I know it when I see it.”

Well, comparing Device 6 (which is text-centric) with Gorogoa (which is wordless) is informative. I’d say I’m thinking of games which include the mechanism of storytelling as primary objects of gameplay. In Device 6 that’s words and lines of text. In Gorogoa it’s comic-book-style panels of imagery.

In both cases, the arrangement of text or panels is a focus of the game; you manipulate those things directly.

This is rather different from parser IF, which mostly wants the text to be “transparent”. We generally think of Zork as being the same game whether it’s printing words on a teletype, sending them to a MUD client, or displaying them in a GUI text widget.

(Of course there are parser games which have messed with that assumption in all sorts of ways, but they are exceptional cases.)