Sunday, June 24

Review: Lost in Harmony [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Certainly a strength of the indie space is the ability to experiment and mash together different styles to try to do something fresh and interesting. Where larger more traditional outlets would see risk the smaller and more agile people in the industry see opportunity. Of course, a great reason some of these variances in gameplay aren’t attempted is because they’re no guarantee of success and even if the ideas may seem interesting in execution they’re a bit flawed. Such is the case with Lost in Harmony, a music and rhythm game of sorts that somewhat throws the kitchen sink of “different” at you, and has its moments, but ultimately collapses under the weight of trying to manage it all.

Starting with the positives from the standpoint of games as art you can see the ambition. The main game mode plays out in the dreams of Kaito, a boy whose friend Aya is terminally ill. As you follow their story over a span of many months conversations with Aya via text prompt thoughts and feelings that then influence the theming of his dreams. Always riding a skateboard with Aya behind him they ride through a wide variety of landscapes, with obstacles and theming that range wildly from stage to stage. There are times when these sequences do a phenomenal job of blending music with changes in the scenery, producing remarkable moments, it’s just the gameplay itself (or at least the controls) doesn’t hold up nearly as well.

The perspective in the game is roughly reverse of what you’d normally expect, with Kaito riding towards you as you move backwards. The action consists of having to avoid obstacles that come from all sides (when coming from the side or behind you there will be arrow prompts to warn you to move or jump), trying to collect stardust that will move from lane to lane, and then trying to tap or press specific buttons to the beats with 4 lanes of notes that will span the top of the screen from time to time. It can be difficult enough to manage the transitions between focus in some of the earlier stages where it will jump between these types of play but it is when they’re layered on top of each other in quick succession that the serious control problems and outright frustrations begin. The controller simply isn’t as intuitive for the notes quickly coming across the top of the screen and the touchscreen controls are clearly inferior for managing the action on the bottom of the screen. Since you’re unable to effectively use both modes of control at once, using the Switch’s unique combination of features to play the game optimally, you’re instead left to choose the lesser of two evils and that’s really a shame.

The game’s additional mode, instead playing out as a series of shorter levels where you’ll control a robot named M.I.R.A.I trying to make his escape to Earth, is very similar just with different music and environments. Along the way you’ll unlock some minor visual upgrades that will allow you to customize your character’s headphones, hat, and shirt, but these don’t really do much and honestly the clumsy interface for managing them almost makes it not worth messing with. As a whole the game’s soundtrack has a strange set of classical music, some remixes, and appropriately romantic tunes and it all marries well with the visuals through the game’s 30+ stages.

As an exploration of artistic expression Lost in Harmony is a gorgeous and fascinating feast for your senses, blending great music with visual flourishes throughout. I suppose you could find the story of Kaito and Aya to be a touching one but it’s also only used as a vehicle for driving Kaito’s dreams and not much more for the most part. If you’re someone who really wants to master levels and nail their execution, or even tend to get frustrated by unfair or sloppy sequences it’s the controls that will absolutely grate on your nerves. I appreciate what they’re trying to do but the controls simply don’t hold up to the action on the screen. You can work through it and progress but there’s no denying they’re aggravating. All of this makes Lost in Harmony tough to recommend over better-executed genre titles, though there’s nothing else quite like it on the system so that does make it novel.

Score: 6

  • Artistically ambitious and impressive in places
  • For its price there’s a fair amount of content and great music

  • The controls are muddled and fail to take full advantage of what’s possible on the Switch
  • Many sections in the game clearly point out the control shortcomings and are difficult to master for the wrong reasons