Someone at Zoink sure loves the work of Tim Burton. The creator has become synonymous with a particularly characterful brand of dark fantasy, from The Nightmare Before Christmas through to Frankenweenie and Corpse Bride, and Lost in Random evokes the exact same stop-motion gothic vibes. While that wouldn’t be enough on its own, Zoink has hung an interesting deck-building combat system on those dice-led designs while crafting an intriguing and inviting world, making Lost in Random a fantasy action game that’s worth taking a gamble on.
Even and Odd are sisters, living with their parents in Onecroft, the lowest rung on Lost in Random’s six-tier hierarchical society. As Odd turns 12, the Queen’s consort rolls into town, ready to roll the dice that dictates where her life will be lived out. Odd rolls a 6 and finds herself being collected by the Queen herself to go and live with her, leaving her family behind. Even can’t accept her sister’s fate, and after fitful dreams is led off on an adventure by a ghostly apparition. It doesn’t take long before she finds herself joined by Dicey, a living dice that opens up an array of hitherto-unimaginable options to her.
Those options revolve around Lost in Random’s unique combat system. Even has a batch of cards in her deck, which cover a range of different options including giving her damage dealing weapons, traps and defence. You collect energy from enemies with Even’s slingshot or by dodging at the last moment, charging up Dicey and drawing cards from the deck, before roll Dicey to freeze time and see how many cards you can play. Each card has a different cost too, so you have to make a decision on whether to top up your health and work your way back into combat, or forge ahead with an offensive option.
It’s a refreshingly different approach to combat, and it certainly works to keep you working and thinking through encounters from start to finish. The issue is at times that it can feel a little slow. You can charge your cards up, and then fall foul of a poor roll from Dicey that leaves you with little option other than to start again. It manages to stay just on the right side of being annoying, but there are times where you’re going to feel a bit hard done by.
When you do get to unleash your cards and abilities upon the enemy, everything makes sense. Dropping in a card trap that weakens the enemy before wailing on them with a magical hammer is a trick that never gets old, and when the dice rolls are in your favour the frivolities feel suitably fantastic.
One of the biggest draws to Lost in Random is likely to be the art style. If you’ve got a penchant for the stop-motion animated stylings of Tim Burton and Henry Selick then you’ll immediately fall in love with the character and setting designs of Lost in Random. From the imposing Queen through to her witch-like consort and the cast of supporting characters, there’s a practiced eye for the odd and inexplicable here. One particular highlight is the scarecrow-like Rojam, the evil alter-ego of Two-Town’s mayor who, despite having a very poor grasp of rhyme, challenges Even to a poetry contest.
There is some disappointment to the lack of variety in the character models though. Whether it’s the robotic minions of the Queen that you regularly face off against, or another fish-like NPC, there can be times where you’ll question whether you’ve been somewhere before.
That disappointment may well extend further, as so much of Lost in Random’s world-building is done through reams of exposition that is spun from those characters. It’s clear that a huge amount of work has gone into making this fantasy world feel lived in and fully formed, but it’s often doled out in a way that doesn’t make things feel so much magical as mundane. You’ll find yourself beginning to click swiftly through dialogue all too soon.
What does work is the narrative framing for Even’s tale. Told in a storybook style by a particularly smooth and sultry narrator, there are times where Lost in Random feels like a Burton-produced movie that you happen to be in control of. The effect is intoxicating. You’ll overlook some of the less successful elements as you’re invested in Even and Dicey’s journey. The fact that Dicey is a burbling delight like R2-D2 is another advantage.