From the sticker-filled comedy of Stick It to the Man! to the mystical dark forest of Fe and the heartfelt puzzling of Ghost Giant, Zoink Games has made a name for themselves as a studio that can produce games that are wonderful because of their weirdness and oddities. Lost in Random is no different.
From the first moment, the game’s visual stylings will capture your imagination, bringing to mind a Burton-esque style and classic stop motion films such as Coraline as it weaves a twisted fairy tale of its own. This is a world that is ruled by the roll of a single die, the number that it settles on determining everything from a tone of a particular day, through to settling everything about an individual’s future life.
It’s the latter point that kicks the story into gear as Even’s sister Odd reaches the age of 12, at which point her future must be decided by the die of the Queen of Random. As it rolls and lands on a six, her fate is settled; she is to go with the Queen and live in her realm of Sixtopia, leaving behind her family in the town of Onecroft with all its rickety-looking platforms and teapot-styled houses.
Even is understandably heartbroken by this, a dream and ghostly vision convincing her that her sister is miserable and that she must set out to rescue her. Her journey leads her to the edge of town and the shipping yard where she can try and stow away on a boat heading up to the loftier and more glamorous of the kingdom’s six realms, but as disaster strikes and she abandons ship, she finds herself in a rather strange part of the world.
This ruinous region is filled with dice. No, it’s made out of dice of all sizes, creating huge walls, archways, cliffs and mountains. It’s eerie, not least because of the dormant robots that stand motionless as you take your tentative steps here. It’s here, in a moment of peril, that she meets and immediately bonds with Dicey, a little six-sided creature that sprouts arms and legs and happily runs around after Even babbling away in its adorable little gibberish language – there are echoes of the Star Wars droids R2-D2 and BB-8 in that regard.
It’s upon meeting Dicey that the game’s combat steps to the foreground, with an innovative tactical battle system that blends together real-time action with card-based abilities and the randomised roll of a die. On paper it might sound a little rote, but trust me when I say it’s an excellently inventive combination of these ingredients.
Armed with just a little slingshot, Even on her own cannot harm any of the enemies that come after her, but she can and will need to aim for and chip off the glowing blue crystals that constantly sprout from enemies of all sizes. Picking up these crystals – which is something you can command Dicey to go and do – fills up a meter that, as it maxes out draws cards from your deck of abilities. You need just one card unlocked in order to then throw Dicey. This is where the magic happens.
Throwing Dicey taps into the power of the Dicemension, freezing time as all the possibilities that lie before you wait to be resolved. Depending on the face that Dicey lands on, you then have that many points to spend on playing the cards that currently feature in your hand. These could allow you to draw a Bow of One to power up Even’s ranged attack, a Sword of Three that adds damaging melee attacks to her arsenal for a time, or to create traps and hazards like Bomb that deals damage in an area, summon a demonic 20-sided icosahedron to bounce around and hit things, or a righteous giant fist that will move in a straight line and slap down your enemies.
At the start of the game, we’re only able to scratch the surface of what these cards can do and the possibilities that they offer. With the game frozen, you can play as many cards from your hands as you can, and you should, because that hand will disappear as soon as you unfreeze time. The only limit is how many action points Dicey’s roll awards you.
Dicey might have six sides, but as you meet him for the first time, he’s missing a lot of his dots. It means that during the early battles in the realm of dice, and when taking your first steps into Twotown, his rolls are effectively a coin toss, awarding one or two action points. As you progress, you’ll be able to power him up until a roll can award the full range of one through six. I can already imagine the kinds of powerful cards that will be possible to play if you roll a six, but you’ll need to carefully consider the cards that you put in your deck. You’ll need a spread of regular single token cards, sprinkled with some 3-4 token cards and then maybe just one or two of the most powerful 6 cards. With fifteen cards in your deck, it’s going to be a relatively simplistic take on deck building that should be easy to grasp and manage, but one that could let players chase after a high-risk build.
It’s a genuinely compelling combat system, and one that goes hand-in-hand with the world that Zoink has created. From what we’ve seen of the game, there’s a real Hunger Games vibe to the world, as each of the six realms is differently themed and has varying levels of stature. Where Onecroft is a hodgepodge shanty town, Twotown immediately feels very different. It’s still grimy, but it’s got actual streets and buildings that line them.
Of course, it’s no-less twisted, and is seemingly obsessed with the number two and duality. They’re just putting the finishing touches to a second moon to hang in the night’s sky, there are characters that can change their tone and demeanour at a moment’s notice, and so many more twists and clever nods. I can’t wait to see what the other four realms bring.
The opening hours of Lost in Random immediately get your mind whirring with all the creative touches to the Kingdom of Random, the gorgeous art direction, and the mind-worm that is its tactical combat system. Thankfully, there’s not long to wait, with Lost in Random set to release across PS5, Xbox Series X|S, PS4, Xbox One, Switch and PC next week on September 10th.