Lost Sea gameplay screenshot and review

I'm sure you've always wondered, at least as a kid, about what in the world hides within the Bermuda Triangle. Well, according to Lost Sea its a whole bunch of overgrown wildlife, an insane scientist, teleportation technology, and enough gold coins to make El Dorado look practically impoverished.

While its certainly a charming little adventure with some beautiful locales to visit, its combat is a bit too basic to stay enjoyable for very long, and due to various balancing problems its far too easy to create a monstrously overpowered character that just sweeps through the entire game. To put it simply, Lost Sea is not a bad game, but it just isn't designed with your hardcore roguelike fan in mind.

 

Video version of this review (15 minutes)

From the very moment I launched Lost Sea one thing was obvious, the art style is exceptionally charming and surprisingly cheerful given that you are on everyone's dinner menu. While the textures might not hold up to scrutiny, the aesthetic design throughout all five of the main zones is simply a joy to look at, and it has helped keep me calm and collected through some of the more harrowing moments when I walked around with barely a sliver of HP to my name.

To further add on to the atmosphere we have the music, which while not numerous exhibits the same sort of charm as the visuals. Its hard for me to describe the soundtrack, mostly because music is such a personal experience, but to put it simply the jungle theme makes you feel like you're cleaving your way through the Amazon, the desert theme makes you feel like you're exploring a far-away location while neck-deep in sand, and so forth. All of this combined makes Lost Sea a rather relaxing experience, something I certainly didn't expect to see given the non-optional permadeath.

Lost Sea screenshot Dinosaur Bones

Finding these hidden little areas is definitely the highlight of Lost Sea

If I would to level one complaint against the presentation it would be the camera, which for the most part plays along, but occasionally gets stuck on a particularly large piece of terrain and then completely obscures your vision, much to the delight of ravenous raptors that skulk some of the islands. This little problem isn't without its solutions, however, as there are camera controls available, but this is where we run into Lost Sea's first big issue.

For reasons unknown, there is no in-game way to rebind the controls! I expected I would be OK with this given that I'm boring and tend to run generic controls on most games, but since Lost Sea uses only the keyboard and since my keyboard is somewhat compact, I ended up roleplaying as Quasimondo for the first few hours, just hunched over like some sort of gorilla. I eventually figured out you can change the keybinds by looking up the config file in the Steam folder, but there is absolutely no reason anyone should ever have to do this. This goes doubly so for Lost Sea, given that its colorful graphics and relatively simple mechanics make it perfect for kids, people who didn't grow up in the era where messing around with config files was the norm.

Lost Sea screenshot -camera issues

Trees - the greatest enemy!

Once I achieved my victory over the controls and finally stopped dying to pigmen with a poor choice in fur coloring, I was able take a breather and enjoy the exploration. It was at this point that I realized Lost Sea is actually procedurally generated, a fact that somehow managed to avoid me despite numerous run-ins with dead ends containing nothing more than a hearty dosage of pain. While most areas will generally look similar, on account of sharing the same art assets, I can't say I ever discovered an island I could instantly identify due to repetition, so the random generation is definitely doing its job quite admirably.

The only area the procedural generation fails in are the pre-built chunks it sprinkles throughout the islands every once in a while. Seeing an ancient temple with bones scattered around a giant altar is impressive the first time around, but when you see it for the 20th time and it always features the same sort of treasure, it stops being impressive and transitions more towards boring. It also doesn't help that these chunks almost never feature any combat within them, so the moment you recognize that temple, graveyard or mining town, you know you're completely safe to roam around and gather as much treasure as your slaves allies can carry.

Still, the exploration is most certainly enjoyable, and with plenty of loot to gather I often got worked up into a "looting frenzy" where I simply couldn't stop exploring the island until I've found every single gold coin I could. This would occasionally get me into a spot of trouble as I'd round a corner into a hairy ogre, but these details aside I'm happy to say that the loot hoarder within me was satisfied with what Lost Sea had to offer.

Lost Sea screenshot - Treasure

Nothing quite like a big treasure chest

Speaking of ogres, its probably high time we get down to the actual gameplay mechanics behind Lost Sea. Much like how it works in other roguelikes, in Lost Sea you basically start off as the wimpiest man alive, barely able to stand your ground against a particularly mean-spirited shrubbery, but through tons of murder and looting you will slowly build up your power until you are a nigh-unstoppable juggernaut. Unlike the majority of the genre, however, Lost Sea doesn't use items to augment your power, instead its all about using money and experience to upgrade yourself, your allies or your ship. Items are still present, it would be downright silly not to include them, but they mostly serve a supporting role by acting as teleport beacons, health packs, brief invulnerability potions and so forth.

This sort of idea can work really well, mostly because you get to chose the stats and effects you're interested in, but it needs to be meticulously balanced and appropriately costed in order to not break the game or simply be too boring to strive for. While I would love to say that Lost Sea manages to achieve this lofty goal, the unfortunate reality is that while the combat orientated talents are perfectly balanced, the ship upgrades are almost universally pointless outside of a few cheap and mandatory ones.

The moment I realized this was such a massive downer for me, not because I was particularly attached to my ship, but rather because the process of picking up gold coins is incredibly intoxicating. Each swing at a treasure chest or a barrel filled with loot is followed by a gratifying thunk and the crinkle of coins as they are propelled from the impact. Even simply picking them up from the floor is cathartic given that each and every time you get that "I just picked up a shiny thing" noise you might remember from oldschool platformers. All of this creates a truly excellent looting process, but sadly the rewards themselves are nowhere near as exciting, and as such there is very little reason to keep collecting loot once you have the few mandatory upgrades.

Lost Sea screenshot combat between monsters

Did I also mention you can get the monsters to fight each other?

Besides smacking around treasure chests, you will also have to raise your sword in self defense against the various monsters that lurk the islands. From a purely mechanical standpoint the sword swings feel pretty damn good as they are launched the moment you press the attack button and their hitboxes are mostly fair, so if you think you're going to hit something, you're probably going to succeed in doing so. In a way the combat reminds me of the old Zelda series, as its all about timing your attacks and bouncing the enemies back before they slam straight into your face. Nothing feels more satisfying than having almost a dozen birds charging straight for you, only for each and every single one of them to get bounced back by an expertly timed blade!

Unfortunately, while timing and finesse are most welcome, they are not required as your sword swings have no cooldown or windup, so your attack speed purely depends on your mashing skills alone. This isn't as overpowered as it might seem since enemies get a few frames of invincibility every time you hit them, but if you're good enough at mashing you can essentially create a tornado of blades ahead of you, an area through which no enemies may pass, rendering you completely safe at almost every occasion. Despite realizing this early on, I chose not to abuse it as it completely invalidated other cool moves such as the dodge roll, charge attack, spin attack, and so forth. I've spent a good chunk of my experience points getting these skills to become available, and I'll be damned if efficiency is going to stop me from looking cool in the heat of battle!

Lost Sea screenshot - combat issue

Tactics? Who needs them, just stand still and swing your sword like mad!

As for the enemies you'll face, they are a rather simple bunch, and despite dealing a whole ton of damage each time they hit me I still found myself rarely dying once the controls became a non-issue. Your opponents will either charge at you, do a delayed area of effect attack, throw projectiles, or any combination of those, and while that might sound like a well rounded set of abilities, they are all basically countered by the cheapest talent you can unlock - Sprinting. Things do get trickier at the later stages, there's no doubt about that, but the same set of tactics will work for every single enemy in the game, even the bosses!

Enemies charging at you? Why bother dodge rolling when you can sprint instead. Enemies throwing projectiles at you? Sprint around the projectile and smack them in the face! Enemy charging up an AOE attack? Better run away! While I am cracking a joke at its expense, I don't consider any of this as a flaw given that Lost Sea doesn't appear to be designed as a hardcore roguelike experience. Health pickups are plentiful, essential upgrades are simple to acquire, and you can cruise through the entire game by only choosing relatively easy missions. Obviously, you can find ways to challenge yourself and hard missions are plentiful as well, but at the end of the day the combat system feels like it was designed with a leisurely playstyle in mind.

Lost Sea screenshot pirate boss

Even the bosses feel a bit too simple

The follower system further feeds into this theory as you are able to become nigh-unstoppable through the right combination of crewmen. As for the followers themselves, they are by far the most innovative idea Lost Sea puts forward, though sadly they are a bit too underutilized for my liking. Their main purpose is to offer you ways of traversing obstacles or picking up hidden loot, either by building bridges, unlocking chests or digging up buried stashes. Since you start with only one follower slot and need to spend a surprising amount of experience unlocking the other three, one would think that choosing the right follower with the right skills would be a crucial aspect of your survival, but it really isn't.

There are only 3-4 progression-based skills such as Craftsmanship or Lockpicking, with the rest mostly being combat and experience related, and since each follower can have 4 randomized skills its easy to fulfill all of the "requirements" with only one crewmember, and then chose the rest based around their combat benefits. The followers don't fight along with you, they are too cowardly for that, but what they do instead is amplify the amount of damage you do to quite frankly ridiculous levels. Yetis are usually quite tanky enemies and present a significant challenge when you get surrounded by a few of them, but if you have even a couple of followers with the Damage Buff attribute, something that is incredibly easy to achieve, you will be able to one-shot some of the strongest enemies in the game, thus completely removing any and all semblance of challenge.

Lost Sea screenshot - followers and crewmen

Three followers is right about the time when things start getting out of hand

Given how much they give you, both in terms of loot and damage amplification, you would have to be insane to go anywhere without an army of followers in tow, and this is where things get a bit annoying. The followers only have the most basic of AI, and as such will get stuck on nearly any corner, piece of shrubbery, or even a pit of acid! One follower you can easily micromanage and keep safe, two are a bit of a hassle but its still doable, but once you get up to three or four followers all semblance of control goes out of the window due to them trailing some good 5-6 meters behind you, just enough to get stuck on every bit of scenery.

While I do have issues with the followers, especially in terms of how overpowered they make you for nearly no investment, I would like to see this system expanded and reshaped into something truly amazing. The way I would do this is by cutting down on the number of follower skill slots, so you would actually need to specialize your crewmen rather than being granted every skill at the same time, and also by increasing the number of hidden locations only reachable through follower skills. The choice between exploration, loot and combat should be a meaningful one, and sadly it currently is anything but, and as such the whole system feels a bit... token.

The final thing I wanted to mention doesn't directly relate to the review itself, but it is something you should be aware of. Lost Sea doesn't keep a running save file of your progress, so if you have a habit of ALT+F4-ing out of your games as I do, keep in mind that you are going to lose every single minute of your progress. In order to save and exit properly, make sure to go through the "Save & Quit to Menu" option, which while significantly slower, will actually save your game.

Closing Thoughts

Lost Sea is a nice and relaxing romp through exotic locations littered with more treasure than a pirate would ever know what to do about. The highlights for me are the exploration of some beautifully rendered and procedurally generated islands, the process of finding and hoarding tons of loot, and the feeling of slowly upgrading your character with newer and better skills. On the other hand, all of the elements that directly relate to combat and the roguelike progression system are just not compelling enough for me to keep playing Lost Sea once I'm done with this review, despite the 4-5 hours I've spent with it being fairly enjoyable.

If you're interested in a hardcore roguelike experience with perfectly balanced combat and items, I'm afraid you won't find any of that in Lost Sea. However, if you're looking for a cheerful and upbeat game to give your kid and guarantee that they will be both entertained and adequately challenged, then Lost Sea might just be the one you're looking for.

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