Review: Lost In Blue: Shipwrecked (Nintendo Wii)

Lost In Blue: Shipwrecked
Genre: Adventure
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Release Date: 09/23/08

The Lost In Blue franchise is one of those weird niche game franchises that, despite general critical disapproval and low sales numbers, has managed to develop a rabid underground following. It’s not hard to see why; the DS games presented a game concept few other games present (how would you survive on a deserted island?) in a way that’s both accessible and easy to learn and play, yet challenging and complex all the same. The franchise generally tends to not be widely accessible, unfortunately, due in large part to the large amount of repetition and grinding one has to do to survive, as well as to the difficulty one encounters while just trying to survive. Now, as the series has mostly relied on the touch screen interface of the DS to keep it interesting (with the exception of the Gameboy Color Survival Kids games), it makes sense that a console version of the franchise would come to the Wii, as most DS games seem to transition to the Wii nicely (see the Trauma Center games for a prime example). Lost In Blue: Shipwrecked is the first console release from the franchise to date, and as you would expect, it makes good use of the motion-sensitive controls to emulate the touch-screen controls of the DS games. Unfortunately, it also retains many of the restrictive elements that make the series unfriendly to casual players, while also introducing new wrinkles specific to the Wii version in the process.

The story once again starts with a boat accident followed by your protagonist waking up at sea; in this case, you play as Aidan, a young boy with a pet monkey, Hobo, who ends up on a deserted island after an accident occurs on the cruise liner he’s on. He ends up meeting up with Lucy, a young girl who was also on the boat (and who is apparently capable of making long jumps in high heels) and her dog Max, and the four attempt to survive and escape the island. You will eventually meet other characters, who may or may not have secrets to hide, as you play, and depending on how you perform, that will dictate how you escape the island. Generally speaking, the Lost In Blue franchise isn’t known for its in-depth storytelling, choosing instead to focus on the task of surviving over the storytelling, and as with Lost In Blue 3, it’s LOST, for kids, more or less. Generally, the story in Shipwrecked is okay, though it’s not as enjoyable as the stories from prior games, though this is probably because I’ve played all of the last three games, and as such, may simply be tired of the escalating scale of story expansion going on across the franchise (with the first game featuring two kids and some smugglers, and the third game involving an underground laboratory and twins and other such sillyness). It’s not BAD, again, so much as it’s just entirely too much for a game about surviving on an island. Sometimes, especially in your first game on a new console, simple is better.

Shipwrecked looks decent, all in all, though it sports some rough edges here and there. The characters animate well enough, and look good in an anime-inspired fashion, but their facial expressions often look weird because of this, and they’re not particularly detailed, artistically. The environments look like those of a deserted island, in that there are sandy beaches, densely packed forests, rocky cliffs, and so on, and these environments look as they should, but again, the details of such things don’t quite look right; leaves on trees look weird, nothing is particularly detailed or high-resolution, and the various items you can acquire from the environment either look like they should be there (twigs, vines) or they stick out severely (berries, seeds), and not in a “this is an item you can collect” way so much as a “this thing does not belong here” way. Also, like its predecessors, Shipwrecked features a solid soundtrack of tropical and mysterious sounding tunes for your various exploration needs, and they blend nicely into the background of your travels, being neither offensive nor memorable in their execution. The snippets of spoken dialogue the DS games featured also make a return to this game, as only certain words will be voice-acted during cutscenes and normal conversation, and while there’s more voice-acting in Shipwrecked than in prior games, there’s still not really a lot of it, which ends up making its odd appearances disconcerting when it does pop up.

The gameplay in Shipwrecked is similar to that of the other games in the series, though this time the game is played from a third-person behind the back perspective instead of the normal locked overhead view, and the stylus controls are replaced with Wii-mote specific actions, which helps to freshen up the experience and make it more readily accessible to new players. As with prior games, “the basic idea behind each of the games is that you’re wandering around an island trying to survive and escape, by gathering up various things needed to do so. This is accomplished simply enough by, well, running around in the game world. Your character is capable of running about the environment, climbing up and down various cliffs and such, and collecting the various doo-dads that line the environment. Since the vast majority of the game is spent doing this, it’s generally good to note that maneuvering around the game is reasonably easy and works well enough that one can do so without too much trouble. You can spend most of the game wandering about by yourself most of the time, but in several sections of the game you will NEED to bring one of your partners if you hope to progress forward, because you will need the help of a second person in general (to move large rocks and logs, for instance). You can also use the second person’s backpack as storage space for the various items you collect while you’re out foraging.”

Like Lost In Blue 3, you will also have to play a great many mini-games in order to progress, which can be as simple as shaking a tree or sweeping away sand, or as complex as building a shelf/raft/whatever. All of these mini-games revolve around, you guessed it, the Wii-mote motion controls in some form or fashion, though the game is more than willing to explain how these games work, and in most cases they’re pretty simple to navigate. You might have to pump the Wii-mote and nunchuck up and down to climb a ledge, push and pull your Wii-mote back and forth to saw a log, or grab a piece of food with A and B, then flip it by flicking the Wii-mote, for instance. Again, these controls are easy to adjust to, simple to work around, and often easy to succeed at with enough practice. Now, of course, there are new mini-games in Shipwrecked that didn’t appear in other iterations of the series, but in another interesting twist, the rules for the existing mini-games have also changed a bit. Let’s look at spear-fishing for a simple example: in the original games, you would look down into the water to spot a fish, tap the area of the fish, and (hopefully) catch it, whereupon you would go back to the default view and either try again or move on. In Shipwrecked, your target is now locked in place in the center of the screen, and you can catch as many fish as possible before a timer at the top of the screen runs out, though each fish you catch will make the target sway more, thus making catching fish harder. Indeed, most of the mini-games are timed now, from fishing to foraging to carpentry and beyond, largely because you can now play said mini-games with and against friends, either to improve your results in the main game or to compete in a mini-game challenge that’s separate from the main game.

The single-player game is where most of the gameplay is, and it should be noted that the game is generally simpler difficulty-wise than earlier games, though still significantly challenging in its own ways. Food is quite readily available and easy to find, while activities like fishing (which would normally be a huge food source) now deplete time fairly rapidly, making them less easily abused as food sources. The island is significantly huge, and is arguably the largest in any of the games, but an overhead map that shows up as you’re playing makes navigating the various areas a good bit easier than it might be. The ability to play mini-games co-op in the main story mode can potentially make some of the more challenging tasks far simpler to accomplish, which is also really neat and makes life a lot easier as a result. Another interesting thing added to this game is the fact that both of your characters have pets who can also do things for you (Hobo can climb up into trees and get things down for you, while Max can dig up hidden treasures); while you can do the things your pets can do yourself, the fact that they can do them makes life easier for you, so long as you keep them happy. There are also multiple endings to the game and other characters to play through the game as, which helps to keep the game interesting beyond the initial ten or so hours you’ll spend with it. On a pure variety and accessibility level, Shipwrecked is leaps and bounds above the other games in the series, and if you’re completely new to the franchise, you’ll still be able to pick this game up and learn it easily.

Which is not to say that it’s a significantly better game, however, as Shipwrecked has a lot of problems all its own. For one, many of the mini-games, while they make good use of the Wii-mote controls, aren’t particularly fun or easy to work around. Take the afore-mentioned fishing game; aside from the fact that it now hinders your ability to catch more than one fish by screwing up your aim after the first catch (which is not how spear fishing actually works), the fact that you can’t even move the target further makes fishing a pain, because you have to hope the fish you see will float somewhere into the center of the screen, which may well not happen. This is a problem for several mini-games, not just spear-fishing, but as this is the first mini-game of this sort you’re likely to encounter, it’s likely to leave a bad taste in your mouth. Exploring the island is also somewhat of a pain in comparison to prior games, because you’re going to NEED your partner for a lot of your exploration ventures; it’s not that you didn’t need your partner at some times in other games so much as it is that you need your partner a lot more in Shipwrecked than you did on other games, or so it seems. Another major issue is the whole transition from the tutorial to the main game, as this game features something of a tutorial island to start you off before sending you to the main island proper. The tutorial island isn’t a bad idea, and it certainly makes sense to give the player a chance to really learn how the game mechanics work, but the game itself actually goes about transitioning from one to the other in the worst way imaginable, by having your character lose his backpack as he arrives at the new island, thus losing all of his belongings, including his lighter, to start you off empty again. Look, I get that the game feels the need to make the situation overbearing, since your goal is to survive on a deserted island and all, but the way this is implemented is incredibly stupid because

1.) logic says that you would carry your lighter in your POCKET, not in your BACKPACK, because you would want to avoid this very thing,
2.) logic also says you would keep your backpack ON YOUR BACK while paddling a raft across the ocean, so as to not lose it at the bottom of said ocean, and
3.) the game then turns around and gives you a brand new backpack, with the same amount of inventory spaces, thus saying without words “START OVER”, which is exceptionally frustrating.

Look, you could just as easily had the player lose his lighter by dropping it into the ocean, or by having the player fall into the ocean and soak the lighter, or by having it run out of fluid, without stripping away all of the items the player gathered. What was the purpose of that? To completely waste the time of the person playing? To frustrate the player IMMEDIATELY so as to set the tone for the rest of the experience? Whatever the reason was, it was a poorly executed action that could have been improved in any one of a thousand ways (here’s one: start the player with a smaller backpack, then give them a BIGGER backpack when they lose the fist one), and it’s an incredibly bad way to start a video game.

See, the above complaint is about one of a million that can easily be assembled into one large issue with the game: much like the previous games in the series, Shipwrecked is not friendly to the player in most cases, which is doubly annoying because the design and the console it’s on make it look like a casual player’s game, something it most definitely is not. That’s not to say it’s hard (although it certainly can be) so much as it is to say that it’s very awkward in the way it does things. Now, part of this is because, as expected, the game is like all of the others, and doesn’t really give you any sort of idea of where you’re supposed to be going next or how you’re supposed to accomplish your next task, but another big part of the problem is that the game has changed so much in the way things are done that it becomes difficult to really understand why some things are the way they are. Why do you need to build a shelf to have a place to put things? Why can’t I just put them on the ground? It’s great that I can now add twigs to the fire to keep it going indefinitely instead of having to rely on my partner to do so, and it’s also great that I can use a log to keep the fire going longer, but why can’t I just put sticks and bark into the fire? They’re wood, why can’t I use them for the fire? I can catch hermit crabs and kill boars for food, so why do I have to drive away the snake that shows up while I’m digging? I have a knife, why can’t I kill it and eat it? Why does a meal of four fish only fill my fullness, even as a four-star meal, so little? I shouldn’t have to eat six times in a day in order to keep my characters from starving to death. Why is everything, literally, the exact same thing, day after day? In the first Lost In Blue everything felt like there was some sort of purpose to it; you would find an impassible obstacle, spend a day or two preparing, then bring your partner to the obstacle and pass it, then return home, rest, and explore until you found the next impasse. In Shipwrecked, this happens ALL THE TIME, meaning you’re constantly disrupting your tasks to prepare for a trek, bring your partner somewhere, move something, and bring them back, only to bring them out with you again, because bringing them with you all the time TAKES ENTIRELY TOO LONG AND IS EXCEPTIONALLY BORING. The flow of the experience is broken, the pacing is poor, and even if you liked the last three games, most of the pacing and design elements that made those games so good simply did not translate to this game at all.

The bottom line is that Lost In Blue: Shipwrecked, while it isn’t bad, simply isn’t as good as the DS titles from the series. You can certainly play the game, the controls are easy to work around and with, the overall presentation isn’t bad, and there’s lots of stuff to do in the game. If you’re a fan of the DS titles, that may well be enough to get you into the game, and since the game is only thirty bucks, that’s not a bad price to check it out for. Most people probably won’t really get into the game, though, as it’s fairly hard to appreciate. Casual gamers are going to find the whole experience tedious, punishing, and unrewarding, and while fans of the DS titles might find some enjoyment here, they may also find that they don’t care for the changes to the mechanics of the game in this version, or they may find that they simply don’t like the change in gameplay at all. As the first attempt at a Wii version of the game, Lost In Blue: Shipwrecked isn’t a bad try, but it’s not a huge success, either, and it’s really only going to appeal to people who like the prior titles and don’t mind the changes that make the game less enjoyable that have been made along the way.

The Scores:
Control/Gameplay: GOOD
Replayability: ABOVE AVERAGE
Balance: POOR
Originality: MEDIOCRE
Addictiveness: POOR
Appeal: POOR
Miscellaneous: POOR

Final Score: MEDIOCRE.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Lost In Blue: Shipwrecked is a solid first attempt at trying to bring the Lost In Blue franchise to the Wii, though it’s rough around the edges in ways that are both old and new. Newcomers will probably dig the frequent mini-game challenges (this being a Wii game and all), the multiplayer options, and the colorful presentation, and fans of the series will probably find some joy in some of the new design elements and the new play mechanics. However, the game is as repetitive and torturous as ever, many of the gameplay changes make the experience less user-friendly than its DS counterparts, and many of the gameplay elements are confusing and questionable in context. For the semi-budget price, Lost In Blue: Shipwrecked isn’t a bad game to check out, but it may leave both new and old fans disappointed at what the game is in comparison to what the game could have been.



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