The developers at Zoink have been behind some truly out-there games in the past. The studio’s previous titles, including Fe and Stick it to The Man, have varied in terms of style. Lost in Random shares more DNA with the latter, with a visual style ripped from the mind of Tim Burton and gameplay mechanics that any fan of board games (or gambling for that matter) should enjoy.
However, Lost in Random itself expects something from players. It expects anyone holding the controller to be endlessly interested in its world and characters based solely on that Burton-esque style, which comes complete with monstrous character designs. During my preview of Lost in Random, I was met by equal parts combat and dialogue, and it’s easy to say that the former was vastly more interesting than the latter.
Left in the lurch
Lost in Random tells a simple story, though it’s loaded with lore. The game takes place in the Kingdom of Random, which is (naturally) ruled by the Queen of Random, a tall, menacing, and clearly not evil ruler who uses the roll of a single die to decide the fate of the world every day. Once children are 12 years old, the queen visits and has them roll that die to decide where they’ll live for the rest of their days. That day eventually arrives for the main character’s sister, and she’s whisked away.
The game’s story revolves around an adventure to rescue the sister by traveling across the kingdom of Random, which is divided into six different areas. Each area, which have names like Twotown or Sixtopia, corresponds with one of the sides of a die, with the idea being that the higher someone rolls, the better life will be for them. It’s an eerily strange euphemism for caste systems, but with a lighthearted spin.
Regardless of where they are, though, players will still encounter the same creatures that seem to have been ripped from The Nightmare Before Christmas, and they all have a lot to say. NPCs in Lost in Random have lines upon lines of dialogue, with some thankfully being optional. And while, thanks to strong voice performances, I never encountered a character that I hated listening to, I was simply ground down by how uninteresting it all was. Characters either go on about some quirk in their personality, the gimmick of their town, or the game’s lore, all of which are equally uninteresting.
Lost in Random suffers from an issue common in much of modern media. The game’s lore includes stories about a dice war, in which people battled it out using dice, magic, and the power of random. Between that story and one about someone trekking through a strange kingdom to find their sister, I’d much rather experience the former. While the snippet of Lost in Random‘s story that I played does come with some interesting characters and funny quips here and there, it was fairly bloated and expected me to care without providing a reason.
Where its story is overloaded and easy to skip, Lost in Random‘s combat is equal parts entertaining and engaging, demanding the player’s attention and earning it with every moment. The main character, Even, fights alongside a die she’s found, aptly named Dicey. She uses it to call forth magical abilities that can change the course of a battle in a second, providing that players roll well.
Players are powerless at the start of Lost in Random, with just a slingshot and a quick dodge at their disposal. The game’s enemies, which are oftentimes large, lumbering robots, have energy crystals on them that players can shoot off and collect to charge their deck of magical cards. These cards let players whip out magic weapons, tools, or traps — like a bow and arrow, hammer, sword, or a bomb — whenever they want.
To actually use the cards. though, players have to roll Dicey, and then spend points equal to whatever they rolled to activate a card. On paper, this system seems confusing, and when I first started playing Lost in Random, I wasn’t thinking about what I was doing so much as pressing buttons and hoping for the best. However, as I got along in the game and began to understand the flowchart of combat, it became much easier to plan out attacks and defeat enemies quickly.
You’re also able to fully customize your deck of cards by purchasing new ones from a shop. While not every card seems extremely helpful, you’re almost guaranteed to find some that become mainstays. For instance, I ended up purchasing and then constantly using a card that turned dicey into a screaming bomb that would blow up enemies for massive amounts of damage.
The real kicker for me is that I was only able to experience the weaker end of abilities players will have in combat. The most a card that I had ever cost was three points, and at some point in the game, players will be able to roll a whopping six on Dicey. Whatever abilities Zoink has planned for the late game, they’re sure to be exciting spectacles.
As it is right now, Lost in Random is a toss-up. I genuinely enjoyed the game’s combat sections, all of which were properly challenging and engaging thanks to a creative use of common board game mechanics. Developers have succeeded with bringing mechanics from tabletop games to video games before, but Lost in Random takes those mechanics and instead innovates and adapts them to better fit a video game. The result is something genuinely wonderful and unique.
My main concern for the game at this point is its story. It is a slog so far. During my preview, I avoided speaking to nonstory NPCs as much as possible, since they were just unnecessary barriers between me and the game’s next combat section. I can’t say how that bodes for the rest of the game, but hopefully, players will be able to get to the action faster without having lore or exposition dumped on them, demanding attention when it’s certainly not yet deserved.