Do you ever wish you could go back to being a child again?
To those days where you had nothing to worry about except whether you’d done your homework and if you’d be allowed out to play. Where your imagination enabled you to turn even the most mundane of situations into an adventure filled with wonder and excitement.
It’s something I’ve been longing for recently as my Data Fellowship apprenticeship draws to a close. The past month has been spent paying attention to nothing but my portfolio so it’s ready for submission in the middle of May. Knowing now that I’m going to have to edit all 150 pages of it before the deadline, I’d love nothing more than to be transported to another world.
Thankfully, we had an extended weekend here in the UK thanks to a bank holiday. I therefore allowed myself to take a day off and spent it going for a long walk to the end of nearby pier, playing video games and eating ice-cream. As well as making progress in my attempt to finally finish The Longest Journey series, I also managed to knock another title off my wishlist and felt like a kid again while doing so.
Filling five hours with Happy Juice Games’ Lost in Play was a pleasure. Joining youngster Gal and her older brother Toto on their journey through an enchanted forest, goblin village and ocean of magical creatures was just what I needed to help me forget about adult responsibilities for the evening. The only thing I had to focus on was ensuring they made it back home before the moon disappeared, otherwise they’d be stuck in their imaginary world forever.
Although the desire to put on my pyjamas and grab a bowl of cereal was strong, I managed to stop myself from doing so. Lost in Play reminded me so much of Saturday morning cartoons thanks to its hand-crafted visuals and voice-acting consisting of a fantasy language. From the art-style to the sound-design to the story, everything about this game is so innocent and wholesome. It’s hard not to laugh when seeing the outcome of Gal and Toto’s actions and the reactions of the colourful cast of characters.
I’ve written before that I’m not a fan of character-switching. But I was pleasantly surprised at how Happy Juice Games’ managed to pull this off and feel it’s because the transitions happen during moments where it makes sense. The player isn’t forced to continuously change protagonists because one of them has an item or skill that the other doesn’t. Instead, most of the switches occur naturally between scenes and it feels like one child handing over the role of storyteller to the other.
Speaking of children, Lost in Play’s narrative is suitable for everyone regardless of age. The plot is perfect for a younger audience – but I’d recommend having a puzzle-experience adult on hand as a member of your team if you intend to play as a family. The point-and-click sequences are logical and entertaining, with little visual and audio prompts from the characters to guide you in the right direction. However, kids are likely to need a hand when it comes to the mini-games.
I must admit, the cartoon visuals managed to lull me into a false sense of security and several of these challenges ended up being far harder than expected. They’re all fun in their premise: herding unruly sheep into specific squares, playing a game of ‘clicking crabs’ with a pirate seagull, outwitting a monster by leading it through a maze. But their introductions are provided through images, and these are often too vague to immediately understand what you need to do.
There was lots of clicking around and plenty of trial-and-error before I realised what my objective was in many of these situations. Along with character-switching, I’m not fond of enforced mini-games either, and I think this existing mindset negatively affected my experience of them. None of the challenges are terrible and each one is different, so this really is the only negative thing I can say about Lost in Play. I’m just the kind of player who’s more comfortable with inventory puzzles than ones which take place on a game board.
There’s one puzzle I’d like to talk about in more detail though because the idea behind it is genius. In the last third of the game, Gal and Toto find themselves still millions of kilometres away from home with little time to spare before the moon disappears. They come across a kind couple who offer to build them a flying dragon machine to help them travel faster – if they’re able to find the missing parts they need. Cue several scenes of persuading various creatures to hand over these objects.
Once these items have been collected and returned to the couple, the player is presented with a screen consisting of a workbench. There’s also a flat-pack furniture manual containing safety guidelines which look as though they were written by an IKEA employee. With the parts, a screwdriver and some trusty wooden dowels, it’s now up to you to finish putting together the machine and wiring up its electrics so the protagonists can continue their journey.
Why has nobody ever done this before? Basing a puzzle on this mechanic a stroke of brilliance. I’m aware of many people who enjoy building flat-pack furniture and find the sense of accomplishment therapeutic, so it makes complete sense to design a challenge in a similar vein. I know there are video games like Assemble With Care and Unpacking which simulate other household tasks. But it now seems strange that we don’t have something like Flat-Pack Simulator 2023.
If any developers happen to be reading this, you can have that idea and title for free as long as you give me mention me in the credits. It’s also fitting that IKEA’s tagline of ‘the wonderful everyday’ suits Happy Juice Games’ release so well. Here’s a story which reminds you that everything can be an adventure if you use your imagination. A plunger can become a sword, a cardboard box can be transformed into a scary mask, a string of fairylights can lead you in the direction of home.
If you’re in need of something to remind you of what it feels like to be a child again, please do give Lost in Play a try. A scene at the end of the title indicates that we might see more of Gal and Toto in the future. I look forward to joining them again on their next adventure.