Lost Words: Beyond The Page: an poignant mix of gameplay and storytelling from Rhianna Pratchett

Ed Nightingale
·3-min read

From Rhianna Pratchett, daughter of famed novelist Terry Pratchett, comes a game all about storytelling – Lost Words: Beyond The Page.

This isn’t Rhianna Pratchett’s first game, with writing credits on the likes of Mirror’s Edge, Heavenly Sword and the recent Tomb Raider games. This is, however, a more intimate and personal project that’s frequently touching.

Lost Words: Beyond The Page is a game of two halves that blurs fantasy and reality, storytelling and gaming. A young girl writes in her diary and introduces us to her family and life, as well as the fantasy story she’s begun to write. A family tragedy, though, brings those worlds colliding together.

Yes, at its core Lost Words: Beyond The Page is another puzzle platformer about grief. But the way the story unfolds from page to page is where it truly stands out.

That’s because it does unfold from page to page, literally. Words and sentences emerge on a notebook, among watercolour splatters that come to life on the page. You must jump across the words to progress the story, moving certain words to solve puzzles while others are illuminated or morph as you step on them.

The effect is unique and enchanting, coupled with Pratchett’s writing that explores dark themes through the eyes of a child.

Lost Words: Beyond The Page
Lost Words: Beyond The Page. (Sketchbook Games)

We’re then thrown beyond the page and transported into the fantasy story the young girl is writing that parallels her lived experience. It’s here, though, that the game begins to lose its appeal. Eschewing the unique presentation of reality for a generic fantasy world, you’re now tasked with simple platforming puzzles that lack challenge.

Words remain at the core of gameplay, with smart potential. The young girl in the story (however you choose to name her) has access to word magic that allows her to interact with the environment. Words are picked up from her book and moved around the world: ‘rise’ allows you to lift up objects; ‘repair’ to mend broken structures; and so on.

Unfortunately, the game never capitalises on the idea, with basic puzzles only to serve the story. It’s all constantly and gratingly narrated, proving the girl’s words are far from lost.

And so the game progresses, alternating between fantasy and reality. Yet where the fantasy story is all dragons and fireflies and mysticism, it’s in reality that the real magic happens – not only in presentation, but the story itself.

Pratchett richly depicts the anger and confusion of a young girl dealing with death with particular poignancy, paired with some beautiful orchestral music. It’s enough to leave a lump in the throat.

Rhianna Pratchett famously lost her father, the acclaimed Discworld author Terry Pratchett, to a rare form of early onset Alzheimer’s, called posterior cortical atrophy in 2015.

In a tribute to her father published in the Guardian, she wrote:

“Dad was someone who committed to the narrative of a situation rather more than the practicality. So he would wrap me up and take me out of bed in the middle of the night to show me the glow-worms in the hedge or Halley’s Comet blazing across a star-filled sky…he didn’t teach me magic, he showed me it.”

Perhaps the magic of reality over fantasy is the point, here. Fantasy is merely a coping mechanism for the intricacies of real life – in this case, it should’ve stayed in the imagination.

3 / 5

Lost Words: Beyond The Page is available on PC, PlayStation, Xbox and Nintendo Switch from 6 April.