I Will Survive: Lost In Blue

Spoiler warning: expect mild spoilers and killer ants*.

Having hit level thirty in life a few years ago, one of my most used and abused level-up bonuses is my Moaning Bastard perk.  Most things conspire to earn my wrath and contempt in some way, often to the bemusement of younger, less-embittered souls, but something which also seems to bother others no end is difficulty.  Namely how hard games are now – or not – compared to those of previous generations.

We’ve all heard (or delivered) whinges about how games have sold out, dumbed down, or become granny friendly, all under that euphemism of ‘accessibility’ –  a word guaranteed to make your gut drop when your fave developer trots it out while gushing about Super Upcoming Awesome Release VIII.  And, sadly, it happens more than we would like until it has got to the point where difficult games are lauded, spoken of in whispers in dark corners of the gaming world and revered for their tough-guy credentials.  Games like Dark Souls – notorious for torturing any player foolhardy enough to so much as glance at the box art.

However, redemption, as I discovered, can be found in the most unlikely of places – and in my case it was on the DS.  Yes, a Ninty handheld. The game was a little known Konami title called Lost In Blue.  It sounds rather whimsical until you realise that the game will do the equivalent of kneeling on your windpipe while simultaneously laughing in your face as you slowly blackout.

Keith and Skye. Thankfully they didn't call her Moon

Lost In Blue is what could generously be described as a survival adventure – or teenage death sim if you’re feeling especially peevish.  And you will be.  Within minutes.  You play as the amusingly named Keith who, after a shipwreck, finds himself washed up on a seemingly deserted beach.  After some initial exploring you locate a fellow castaway, Skye, and promptly, Scooby Doo style, smash her glasses, rendering her absolutely useless for the rest of the game.  How convenient.  Well, not that it matters, because, being a girl it makes sense for her to stay behind in the cave to do the cooking and tit about with seashells all day while you do manly things, like exploring the island and trying to find a way home.  I can’t even muster the energy to mutter indignantly at this point.  While you do this, your short-term goal is to survive, which means gathering the necessary things such as firewood, food, and some rustic Ikea furniture for your cave.

While it may seem like simple stuff, it’s alarmingly hard.  If your hit points reach zero you die.  Hit points are affected when your stamina bites the dust, and your stamina will begin spiralling towards that point the second your belly is empty. Oh, and you’ll also need water, to prevent dehydration, which will affect your other vitals.  With that pressure constantly weighing on you, it’s very easy to get into a perpetual cycle of finding food, eating, finding more food, etc. just to boost your health a fraction.  If you venture too far from your cave, without sustenance, there’s a risk that you’ll not have the energy to get back and sleep for the night, meaning you’ll likely die.  Very likely.

The thing is, you have to explore – not just to find a way off the island, but to open up new areas to find more resources and food.  That means shoving logs off cliffs to create shortcuts, some of which will require two people, which means Skye gets some time away from polishing her seashell.  Ahem.  In fact, without you to guide her (thanks to the artistic device of having effectively blinded her) Skye can’t leave the cave area alone, needing to have her hand held even to use stepping stones and climb anything over waist height.  Excuse me while I vomit into a bucketful of fermenting sighs.  However, Lost In Blue soon put its sexist side out of my mind by trying to make my life hell for even contemplating playing it.  In fact, I’m just amazed that the box doesn’t puff hydrogen cyanide in gamers’ faces when they open it, it would be far more effective and a superb time saver.

Trying to find a way off the island is easier said than done, because the game wants you to fail.  It genuinely hates you.  The one save slot grudgingly bestowed upon you is testament enough.  Thanks to the game’s difficulty curve looking like someone hit a fly ball that could punch a hole in the international space station, you’ll find yourself questioning everything before you save in case you knacker it.  And you can – the game won’t prevent you from dead-ending yourself, so good luck if you manage to break your only fire-making tool before the game respawns the twigs needed to make a new one, because no fire = no sleep; no sleep = no stamina;  no stamina = swift death as your hit points start to tumble; swift death = mangled DS.

As if that wasn’t enough, to further prove how useless she is, Skye appears unable to look after herself.  She won’t go and forage for food, or go to the stream and drink while you are off exploring, and even when you’ve left supplies in the cave, or food/water in her inventory, there is no guarantee she will use them.  And the best part?  If she dies, it’s game over.  Yes, not only do you have a fiendish set of ever-plummeting vitals, so does she.  Even if Skye’s on the brink of starvation, she won’t wander one single screen from the cave and find a damn coconut to eat.  More than half my time was spent feverishly flicking to the health screen to peer at the duo’s vitals as I traversed the island’s various obstacles in search of escape.  Watching from the far side of the island as her health dropped, while she sat in a cave next to a huge drum full of water, was beyond infuriating.

Dying in this game quickly became a regular occurrence for me, and I loaded more saves than I care to remember.  When she wasn’t mooching about the cave, waiting for manly Keith to come home with some seaweed to grill (or a slate to cook better food on – the game equivalent of an insensitive partner giving you an iron for your birthday), Skye often got her own back for being rendered so useless – she let my chicken die.

Yes, the callous bitch took it out on me.  It took me forever to find the materials to make a trap, set it, and actually catch something, setting out on the long trek for the plains every day, just to check it.  When I finally caught a chicken, I was over the moon.  Eggs!  Skye and the game clearly had other ideas, however, and Mr Beaky had soon clucked off to the great free-range pasture in the sky.  Oh, and despite having more firewood piled around her than Joan of Arc, she would happily let the fire go out, meaning that when I hobbled into the cave, with just a few health points remaining, I had to waste time restarting it before the game would let me sleep (cue me breaking only fire-making tool and then dying).  Is she the passive aggressive, twisted personification of the game’s nastiness?

The island was pretty large, and the ability to make tools increased the hunting/fishing opportunities, meaning that you could fill your stamina meter higher and thus explore further afield.  The game would still punish me in a heartbeat for a mistake, but I found things slowly getting easier.  Right up until the stupid block puzzles in the ruins.  What the hell those rooms were doing there was anyone’s guess, but they were obscenely frustrating and difficult; not in the least because you had to solve all ten rooms in one pop.  If you found your health falling and had to head all the way back home midway through (very likely), the game would cheerfully reset the whole lot, eviscerating all progress, necessitating multiple trips and a ton of repetition to clear them for good.

When I finally reached the last area on the island, I discovered that there were several options for escape, so I opted for what I believed to be the easiest, and nicked some things in order to get Skye’s old life-raft working again.  This was it!  I was on the brink of kicking this game in the face and walking off into the sunset while it cried like a hobbit in a vatful of Veet.  But there was one last twist of the knife to come.

As I led Skye from the cave, fully geared up to escape, the game asked me if I was sure I wanted to go now, as it meant I wouldn’t be able to return to our former home.  Who cares, I thought, I’m leaving.  After I replied in the positive, I made my second biggest mistake.  I saved my game.  To clarify: I saved my game after saying yes.  It was then that I discovered my biggest mistake: I’d missed one item needed for the life-raft.  I’d failed to bring it from the bandits’ camp and the raft wouldn’t work without it.

After retrieving the remains of my DS, I assessed the situation.  We were now stuck outside the cave, unable to return (seriously?!), with no save reload to bail me out.  The camp was at the opposite end of the island and I was lumbered with Skye.  I had to perform the gargantuan task of getting the both of us through caves and plains, ledges, jungles, and lakes to the camp and back again.  Without starving to death.  No fire to cook anything decent, nowhere to sleep to fully recharge.  Bugger.  At this point I considered that I had just thrown away my entire game; weeks of slogging.  It was soul destroying.  So I set off.  And I actually did it.  I lost count of the number of times I died on the way back to the life-raft, but slowly, painfully, and with much hard work, we eventually made it with one hit point to spare.  ONE.

Despite the game’s grinding difficulty at times, I persevered with it until the end, because, to my horror, despite the rage-inducing number of times my character keeled over and died, being able to just potter around an island, exploring and surviving, was a new game experience for me.  Lost In Blue was different enough to be unusual, and I liked it.  There were no evil, rapey mercenaries, no stranded special ops teams, no lurking alien threats, nothing.  It was a hard  game of the gentlest kind I could imagine.  The difficulty didn’t come from stupidly-hard boss fights, waves of ever-spawning enemies, pixel-perfect platforming, or any of the usual things that can lead to smashed joypads and written-off handhelds.  It was just surviving, at my own pace.

The difficulty, while vexing, was refreshing, and the satisfaction when I finally completed the game was more than I’d felt with many other titles.  Perhaps if the battle to complete something is tough, then the overall payoff is far greater.  Although, maybe some of that satisfaction is pure relief, because after the ending cut-scene for Lost In Blue, I vowed to never put myself through anything like that ever again.  And then I went and bought the sequel.

*I lied.

Last five articles by Lorna



  1. Edward Edward says:

    I was enjoying reading this article until a killer ant leapt at me and bit half of my leg off.

    Dammit, Lorna.

  2. [...] a break from writing for GamingLives, only punctuated by a piece on the fiendish nightmare of a game that is Lost In Blue, I’m back. My latest article for GL is about my apathetic and shruggy attitude towards the [...]

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