Konami's Lost in Blue has the potential to be a great game. In fact, I have often wondered why there aren't more games that deal with the basic premise of Lost in Blue: surviving alone in nature. Often in the early days of our literary studies (high school English class is what I'm talking about here), we discuss the major types of conflict found in stories and novels: Man vs. Man, Man vs. Nature, Man vs. Himself. Unfortunately, most videogames focus myopically on the Man vs. Man approach. Frequently this deviates into the Man vs. Alien conflict, which is really an age-old way of representing Man vs. Man without offending anyone.
But rarely do games take on the Man vs. Nature narrative, and I've always wondered about that. Man vs. Nature books, stories and movies are generally popular (such as Krakauer's Into Thin Air
to cite a contemporary example). Watching recent coverage of Hurricane Katrina on the American Gulf Coast, I'm reminded of the truly harrowing, dramatic, and action-packed nature of natural disasters: In another article one might draw comparisons to the events surrounding Hurricane Katrina and the events surrounding the Black Mesa Research Facility in Half-Life, if one substitutes hordes of alien monsters for the storm. Just as we would never want to be caught between headcrabs and special ops extermination teams, we would never want to be caught up in a major catastrophic event which put us in a position of isolation and survival. But both of those precarious positions can make for amazing videogames.
Lost in Blue is not set in a natural disaster, but it does put you in charge of two characters, a boy and a girl, castaway on a deserted island. As the game begins, you play a boy who has been thrown overboard from a ship and washes ashore on the beach of the island. By the second day, you discover a girl who has also survived the storm in a life raft. Together, and under your guidance, they become a survival team and work together to get off the island.
So this isn't a natural disaster game (although we might hope for some kind of lava flow sequence on the island), and the surviving from a shiprwreck or plane crash thing has been done before. I remember most vividly the Dreamcast title D2, which featured hunting deer and rabbits in order to survive in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. And Konami has been here before, too; Lost in Blue is an evolution of the Survival Kids series for Game Boy.
But the simulation we are told of in Lost in Blue is much more impressive than we've seen so far in a handheld system. As you explore the island you find a cave, which becomes your base of operations. From there, you gather items and bring them to your female companion, who develops skills and abilities based on the raw materials you supply her with. For example, bringing her a wider variety of foods develops her cooking skill. If she gains enough skill in cooking, she will ask you to build a drying rack, which allows you to dry and store food for longer journeys.
You must manage basic survival needs such as food, water and rest, for both characters, but also develop hunting and firemaking skills, build new items, and use your developments to reach new locations on the island. The phase of the moon, tides, time of day, and weather all affect the island, such as what type of fish you're more likely to catch, or what areas area accessible through which means.
Most activities are played out with small, quick interactions that generally make use of the touch screen. These are sensible applications of the touch screen, and are varied enough to most likely stay interesting. Basic trace-along games accompany building items, while spearfishing requires a precise jab at the fish with the stylus.
As you explore the island, you eventually stumble upon mysteries of the past (and possibly present) civilization that once inhabited the lush environment. I don't know where these revelations might lead, whether our duo will ever make it off the island, or whether I've just been getting too worked up about the season premiere of Lost, but I plan on checking out Lost in Blue when it comes out on September 27.