Given it's called Lost In Random, you'd expect Zoink Games' new game to be filled with all sorts of oddities and twists and turns and things. Well, it sort of is. And it sort of isn't. I had hoped it would surprise me more, actually. This is a strategy-combat-meets-adventure game that's solid fun and has some great personality, but it gets a little too comfortable to knock you for six.
Lost In Random has you play as a little girl called Even, whose sister Odd has been taken away by the evil queen of Random, the kingdom where you live. You, along with your sentient die companion Dicey, must journey from your hovel in Onecroft all the way up to the queen's castle in Sixtopia to save Odd. It's a premise that hooks you in immediately, and I was desperate to find out what had become of my poor sibling.
But don't let appearances fool you, as Lost In Random isn't a platformer like, say, Psychonauts 2. It's more of an adventure with a hint of RPG. You explore the world, which if anything should be called Tim Burtonville rather than Random, by running about, speaking to fish people, and fetching said fish people things to unlock new pathways. Here and there it surprises, but it's less random than the name lets on. As you climb the rungs of this world, you soon realise that each area copies the former's homework. "Find me two of this, find me three of that." You better like fetch quests, as these are the real gatekeepers of this forlorn land.
Still, can I just say that despite the repetition I still sort of adore Lost In Random's universe? Yes it's drowning in Burtonian influences, and like Alice Bee said after her hands-on preview, it's probably a bit much if you're not into that sweet-but-sinister vibe, but boy is Random filled with character. Everyone teeters on long spindly limbs, and they're either gremlins with upside down faces, or withered trees wearing top hats. They're all amusing too, with a few sending you on more original and fun side quests to break up the linear ride. I traded complicated words with an auntie catfish, for instance.
The hierarchical world of Lost In Random does blend into one a bit because of the whole theme, though. There's only so many ways you can wear Doc Martens and a stripey top, after all. But the journey from Onecroft to Sixtopia is pretty enough, filled with lovely cobbled streets drenched in moody purple light. Occasionally it stuns too, with one standout moment when you reach Threedom and see enormous mechs slugging it out amongst the clouds.
Combat, while super fun for a while, also becomes a bit of a chore later on. It's like a blend between turn-based card battling, dice-rolling, and real time slashing. Even doesn't come armed with anything except a trusty slingshot, so to survive against onslaughts of angry robots, you've got to put it to use. It's basically a spoon to feed your pal Dicey a diet of energy crystals: every enemy has crystal warts you can shatter with a well-placed shot, and if Dicey gobbles these shards up you'll be able to draw from your deck of 15 magical cards.
Each of these cards costs points to play, so a magical sword might cost one, while a trio of bombs might cost three. As long as Dicey has some energy crystals in his rectangular belly, you can roll him to get points and play your hand with whatever number he lands on. Time also comes to a standstill when you roll him, which lets you flick through your options and string together some juicy card combos.
Early on, the rhythm of the game's fights is a proper blast. There's a thrill to chaining together combos, and you feel proper smug when you've poisoned your big hammer and use it to smash a nasty machine into oblivion. This is especially true when you're visiting Mannie Dex on the reg and buying cards to bulk out your collection. He's got all sorts! Cards that play acid-spitting frogs, cards that encase you in a bubble shield, cards that make your dodge capable of automatically popping those crystal warts.
Eventually, though, you come to realise that many of these cards are quite underwhelming. I bought one that formed a lethal leash between Dicey and I, so whoever got caught in this thread as we wandered about would take damage. It sounded so cool, but man, it did basically nothing in practise. While I liked experimenting with a bunch of summons and bombs and cost reduction cards, it didn't take me long to opt almost exclusively for the more mundane cards that just got the job done: huge hammer, explodey arrows, big lance, some healing potions, a sprinkle of poison.
And I think it's all linked to the rhythm of Lost In Random's fights that I mentioned earlier. The constant need to feed Dicey, then roll, hope you get a big number, then pick your cards, then go to town on your enemies - at least several times over - begins to grate. Especially since the game develops a habit later on of stalling your progress with samey arena-style battles.
All this isn't to say there aren't some great battles to be had, most of which feature fun board game twists. I enjoyed one that took place in a velodrome surrounded by huge pipes. Whatever number Dicey landed on every time I gave him a roll would load these pipes with the same number of gigantic spiked balls. I needed to release them with a quick snipe from my slingshot, so they'd funnel into the chasm in the center of the arena, while dodging out of harm's way and watching them clatter into enemies.
I realise that I've nattered about combat loads, but that's only because there's a lot of it. Even if it gets a bit tedious towards the end, at least it lets me spend time with Dicey, who is an absolute king. He speaks in this R2-D2-esque babble and it's always adorable. Thankfully, Even understands these noises, and sometimes you get to have a nice chat with him about how he's feeling, his backstory, or just to reassure him that you don't think he's a strange dice monster.
Lost In Random gets lots of things right, including that Dicey is now with us. But for an adventure game with such a wacky setting, it somehow doesn't get playful enough - or really even random enough - to elevate itself from a solid time to a rip-roaring one.