When I previewed Lost in Random about a month ago, I was cautiously optimistic. Its unique design and world structure made for a compelling combination of a strong narrative story and its own mix of card games. The return to finish the game on Switch turned out to be something of a reality check as it was clear that this version wasn’t on the same level of performance as the PC. However, after more time, it becomes clear that graphical downgrade isn’t what is holding Lost in Random under the hood.
Lost in Random tells the story of the Even and Odd sisters who live in a town called Onecroft. On her 12th birthday, Odd throws the Queen’s magical dice and is brought to the Palace of Sixtopia under the leadership of the Queen. However, one night Even is woken up by a strange ghost that she decides to follow. On the way she meets her new friend Dicey, another living magical cube who helps Even unlock strange new powers with her special cards. From there, the story rotates through the wonderful world of Random. Through some spectacular places like the two-time Two-Town and the war zone that has become the glorious Kingdom of Threedom. As Even gets closer to her goal, you also glimpse in Visions what Odd is going through with the Queen in Sixtopia.
The world design of Lost in Random is really wonderful. Each place has its own unique tastes and characters that look like they came straight out of a board game developed for The Nightmare Before Christmas. Its distinctive, distorted, stop-motion-like appearance makes Lost in Random almost always a feast for the eyes, although the occasional graphical glitches and lower resolution appear on the Nintendo Switch. What I love about this world are all of these little details. Dominoes line the streets, giant pawns that are used to tear down barriers and playing cards as spawn points for enemies. Everything in the game is designed to reflect the wonderful random nature that the queen aspires to be. While I wouldn’t say the story is mind blowing, there are some great and fun characters with some expertly crafted voice overs. When playing at a friend’s house, I often found them watching me play like they were watching 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, the gameplay pretty much repeats itself over time. As soon as you enter certain arenas, the battle begins and Even has to defend himself against all kinds of mechanical monsters. You have no way of attacking them at first unless you knock off crystals with your catapult. When your companion Dicey collects this energy, you can energize cards from your deck. Once your hand of cards is fully charged, you can roll dicey for energy points. When Dicey is thrown, time stops and you can spend the points on certain cards to take advantage of their effects. The choice of cards is quite diverse. 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 cards in your deck for new styles of play, which adds a little variety to the game. I liked creating time bubbles that enemies would get stuck in, poisoning my weapons for extra tick damage, and hitting them with anything I got as soon as time started moving again. There is a lot of strategy involved and unlike other more traditional card fighters, the game takes place in the third person as an action game. This means that you do not passively watch during the attacks, but always attack, dodge and sprint through these combat scenarios.
The biggest hurdle in Lost in Random is the pace of the game. It often drags quests and missions to a point where it can just feel like walking all the way around town to find a specific item. The worst culprits, however, are the battles themselves. Enemies begin almost instantly by respawning frequently, and the battle doesn’t end until all enemies are defeated. It doesn’t help that the fight feels slower because it’s all an act of juggling between getting energy as fast as possible to refill your hand and at the same time wasting all that energy when you draw a bad hand or an unlucky throw have the cube. There are many ways to mitigate this problem, but the struggle will go on for what feels like an eternity. The fight is also inevitable and feels pretty pointless as the only reward afterward is coins to be spent at the card store, which can be easily found by simply exploring the overworld.
All of these factors made me lose interest in Lost in Random after the Third World. There is definitely some variety here, like a combat scenario in which you move a giant pawn across the battlefield to reach the end. But even these got boring as the same enemies kept coming back. The game became a matter of dodging until I had enough energy to throw dice and repeat the process. The pace just got too strenuous to invest fully in experimenting with different decks, play styles, or different approaches.
The performance on the switch is okay. The game aims for a stable 30fps, but doesn’t always achieve it. Graphic style took a hard hit with the transition to Nintendo’s portable devices, but honestly, that has always been inevitable for me personally as I’ve played the PC preview version. All in all, Lost in Random looks and plays great on Switch.
It’s hard to fully summarize my feelings about Lost in Random. I’m almost sure most players will have a great time exploring and playing through the game. The visual design, story and characters are compelling and tell a fantastic story that is both gritty and completely self-contained. On the other hand, it almost feels like a hurdle run to play the game and go through this world. Every time you make good progress the game throws in a combat scenario that just takes the wind out of your sails. It got me to actively play the game in slower parts just so as not to be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of those combat segments. Lost in Random definitely rivals other titles and feels like a premium experience, but along the way, the balance between randomness and thoughtful design may have been lost a bit.