Lost Sea is a top down indie roguelike with a unique visual style and retro sensibilities. Clearly, there is a danger for it to get lost in a sea of superior competitors. We'll be the first to admit that that joke was pretty obvious. But just because a joke is obvious, doesn't mean it isn't true.
The title sees you playing as an adventurer stranded on an island in the Bermuda Triangle. In order to escape your exotic entrapment, you'll have to make your way from island to island in increasingly long archipelagos. Each island is home to a collection of ancient tablets, and these determine how far you can travel once you leave your current island. At the end of each archipelago is a boss fight which unlocks the next collection of levels.
The gameplay itself separates out into a few distinct streams. First is combat, which sees you madly swinging a machete at any and all foes that stand in your way. It's a satisfying and pleasantly difficult system, buoyed by varied enemy attack patterns which force you to change up your strategy. Once you learn those attack patterns, though, the difficulty dissipates, leaving behind rote memorisation and tedium.
Next is exploration. There's plenty of loot to be found on the islands, including the aforementioned tablets as well as disposable combat items. These are scattered randomly over the levels, and as such can either be incredibly difficult, or incredibly easy to find. What's more, the level combinations aren't so radically different that each new layout will provide a monumental challenge. You'll also find crew members standing idly around, and they can be recruited to gain stat boosts and special abilities.
And finally, puzzle solving. Let's be clear, though, we're using the phrase 'puzzle solving' in the loosest possible sense. Those aforementioned crew members all have skills which act as keys to access new areas and items. Some can build bridges, some can open chests, and some can dig for treasure. Picking the right crew members is the name of the game, then. Of course, it's impossible to know what you'll encounter early-game without exploring, so it mostly boils down to trial and error.
All of these mechanics are wrapped in a light levelling system which allows you to augment relevant areas. For instance, you can increase the size of your health/stamina bars, increase the number of items you can carry, or increase the number of crew members you can recruit. You can also upgrade the ship you use to sail between the islands, giving you buffs and extra abilities.
Unfortunately, there isn't a great deal of strategic flexibility afforded by these options. Once you've determined the best upgrades, you'll stick to them for the remainder of your play-throughs.
However, the title's most egregious error comes in the form of the lack of ability to save in the middle of a run. That's right – you're expected to complete the entire game in a single sitting. This wouldn't be such a big deal if the experience was compact, but it isn't – indeed, it'll likely take you at least a couple of hours to make it to anywhere near its conclusion.
Granted, once you beat a boss for the first time you gain the ability to warp straight to the world it unlocks. This would be a clever way to get around the lack of a save feature, were it not nigh-on impossible to make any late-game progress without having first unlocked the early-game upgrades.
Thankfully, the title's presentation isn't so ill-conceived. It features a colourful cel-shaded style which goes a long way in developing a strong sense of place. There is substantial asset repetition, but that is to be expected in this genre. Similarly, the music – while not earth-shattering – does a relatively good job of setting up a sense of adventure and fun.
Lost Sea comes painfully close to being a great experience. In theory, it features tense combat, satisfying exploration, and infinite worlds to explore. In practice, however, its combat is fun but shallow, its exploration is extensive but tedious, and its world is beautiful but repetitive. Most intolerable of all, though, is its stymieing lack of a save feature. A pleasant visual style and an interesting premise don't make up for this dull and disappointing gameplay.