It's all a roll of the dice
When I previewed Lost in Random a month or so ago, I was cautiously optimistic. Its unique design and world-building made for an engaging combination of a strong narrative story and its own blend of card-gameplay. Returning to finish the game on Switch proved to be somewhat of a reality-check as it was clear that this version wasn’t on the same power-level as the PC. However, after spending more time it’s clear that a graphical downgrade isn’t what hinders Lost in Random under the hood.
Lost in Random follows the story of the sisters Even and Odd who live in a town called Onecroft. On her 12th birthday, Odd rolls the Queen’s magical dice and is taken away to live in the palace of Sixtopia under the guidance of the queen. However, one night Even is awoken by a strange specter that she decides to follow. Along the way she meets her new friend Dicey, another living magical dice that helps Even unlock strange new powers using her special cards. From there the story twists and turns through the wonderful world of Random. Going through some spectacular locations like the twofold Two-Town and the warzone that has become the glorious kingdom of Threedom. As Even edges closer towards her goal, you also see glimpses in visions of what Odd is going through with the Queen in Sixtopia.
The world design of Lost in Random is truly marvelous. Each location has its own unique flavor and cast of characters that look as if they walked straight out of a boardgame designed for The Nightmare Before Christmas. Its signature warped stop-motion-like look makes Lost in Random almost always a feast to behold, Even if the occasional graphical glitch and lower resolution crops up on the Nintendo Switch. What I love about this world are all these little details. Domino-pieces lining the streets, giant pawns that are used to break down barriers and playing cards as spawn points for enemies. Everything in the game is designed to be reflective of the wonderful random nature that the queen aspires to. While I wouldn’t say that the story is mind blowing, there’s some great and fun characters along the way with some expertly crafted voice acting. While playing at a friend’s house I often found them watching along as I played, as if they were looking at a movie like Coraline or Paranorman.
Maybe that strong visual and narrative identity is exactly what helps Lost in Random, because while the game looks like nothing I’ve played before, its gameplay does get quite repetitive over time. Once you enter specific arenas, combat starts and Even needs to defend herself from all sorts of mechanical monsters. At first you have no way to attack them, unless you knock off crystals with your catapult. If you have your companion Dicey collect this energy you can energize cards from your deck. Once your hand of cards is fully energized you can roll Dicey to get energy points. When Dicey is thrown, time stops and you are able to spend the points on particular cards to use their effects. The selection of cards is quite varied. From the standard healing items and attacks, to traps and hazards that can easily take care of larger crowds. As the game progresses you can easily swap out cards in your deck for new playstyles which does add a bit of variety to the game. I liked creating time bubbles for enemies to get stuck in, poisoning my weapons for additional tick damage and hit them with all I got once time starts moving again. There’s a lot of strategy available and unlike other more traditional card fighters, the game takes place in the third person as an action-game. Meaning you won’t be looking passively as the attacks play out, but are always engaging in attacking, dodging and sprinting across these combat scenarios.
The biggest hurdle in Lost in Random is the pacing of the game. It frequently drags out quests and missions to a point where it can feel simply tedious to walk all the way across the town again to find a specific item. The worst offenders however are the battles themselves. Enemies start almost immediately by respawning frequently and combat doesn’t end until all enemies are defeated. It doesn’t help that combat feels slower paced because it's all a juggling act between getting energy as quickly as possible to fill up your hand, while at the same time wasting all the energy if you draw a bad hand or have an unlucky roll of the dice. There’s plenty of ways to mitigate this problem, but combat goes on and on for what feels like forever. Combat is also unavoidable and feels rather pointless, since the only reward after are coins to spend at the card store, which can easily be found by just exploring the overworld.
It was all these factors that made me sort of lose interest in Lost in Random after the third world. There’s definitely some attempts at variety here, like a combat scenario where you move a giant pawn across the battlefield to reach the end. But even these started to feel tedious as the same enemies kept coming back. The game became a matter of dodging until I had enough energy to throw dicey and repeat the process. It’s pacing just simply became too much of a drag to find myself fully invested in experimenting with different decks, playing styles or different approaches.
Performance on Switch is fine enough. The game aims at a stable 30fps, but doesn’t always reach it. The graphical style has taken a hard hit with its transition to Nintendo’s portable, but honestly, that was always inevitable for me personally, coming from the PC preview build I played. All things considered, Lost in Random looks and plays great on Switch.
It’s hard to fully sum up my feelings on Lost in Random. I’m almost certain that most players will have a great time exploring and playing through the game. Its visual design, story and characters are engaging and tell a fantastic tale that’s both dark and completely its own. Then again, playing the game and going through that world feels almost like a hurdle race. Each time you make some good progress, the game throws in a combat scenario that just takes all the wind out of your sails. It made me actively want to play the game in slower chunks, just not to get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of these combat segments. Lost in Random definitely can hold its own against other titles and feels like a premium experience, but on it’s way there the balance between randomness and thought out design may have gotten a bit lost.