As a child, there can be fewer harrowing things than losing sight of a parent or misplacing a beloved stuffed toy. Seemingly keen to exploit this particular double decker nightmare is British developer Odd Bug Studio, who has taken this notion and woven it through the structural beats of a Limbo style puzzle platformer. Where The Lost Bear significantly separates itself from its Playdead inspirations however, is that it imparts its fable through the lens of Sony’s shiny new PSVR headset, lending the experience a bespoke kind of visual storytelling that you just don’t see anywhere else.
An entertaining puzzle platformer trapped in Limbo
As Walnut, a young girl who cannot find her parents, nor her stuffed teddy bear, The Lost Bear has our plucky young heroine traversing a stylish, autumnal 2D landscape, leaping over obstacles, flicking switches and solving puzzles in order to proceed to the next area. In this sense, The Lost Bear joins the resurgent cadre of similar puzzle platformers such as Limbo, INSIDE and Black the Fall, and yet, in doing so it opens itself up to comparisons with those games that don’t appear favourable.
Though the platforming itself is robust, satisfying and ultra-responsive, it’s everywhere else where The Lost Bear falls short against its seemingly immediate peers. Puzzle design is by no stretch difficult, often veering into the realm of over-simplicity as it embraces tried and tested switch and physics based conundrum archetypes, while offering little in the way of freshness or significant challenge to invigorate their tired templates.
All the same, there are a number cinematic flourishes which help keep some of the puzzles seem fresher than they actually are. Though the story is one with a titular connection; young Walnut is indeed searching for her lost teddy bear after all, an actual forest bear, a mammoth creature fashioned out of fur and shadow, also crops up from time to time too, knocking down trees and machinery to help Walnut to overcome seemingly impassable obstacles. Ultimately, it’s not that The Lost Bear is a poor puzzle platformer – far from it, it’s just that its ambitions are not centred on creating an experience that ranks alongside the best in the genre.
Elsewhere, the almost total lack of secrets and super brief duration (if you thought Inside was emaciated from a value point of view, then The Lost Bear presses even further in that direction) all serve to paint the picture of an experience which, if you were feeling cynical enough, could be interpreted as not fully serving its audience. As is usually the case in life though, the truth is rarely is so straightforward.
Atmospheric and visual storytelling that is without compare
What’s especially striking about The Lost Bear is the manner in which its presentation is depicted; a 2D platformer could be, and has been, accomplished before without PSVR and so its inclusion here can at first seem superfluous. However, it doesn’t take very long until the reason why the technology has been used becomes apparent.
Framed as a theatre diorama in which the player is sat down in a chair, surrounded by a golden-flecked brown forest as the action scrolls across a two-dimensional plane on stage, the presentation of The Lost Bear is in effect lent a dual dreamlike quality as the game invites you to absorb yourself deeply in its spooky woodland realm and the denizens which inhabit it.
More than just an extravagant visual storytelling device however, The Lost Bear’s diorama also has a functional imperative too, since by turning your head either to either the left or the right of the current scene, it permits players a glimpse into both what lie behind them, and also what lays in front of them, too.
Although Odd Bug Studio’s use of PSVR technology may be somewhat measured; combining what is essentially a 2D platformer with a 3D fixed perspective, the totality of that combination of seemingly unremarkable elements nonetheless proves to be one of the most intriguing experiences you can buy right now on PSVR.
Whether it’s the gentle cascade of autumn leaves in a particular scene, the relaxing serenades of the soundtrack or just the ability to stop what you’re doing and gaze around the lush bounty of nature that surrounds you, it’s fair to say that the marriage of those elements ultimately entails that The Lost Bear is certainly not lacking in atmosphere whatsoever.
When matched against its obvious non-PSVR equivalents in both Inside and Limbo, it is clear that mechanically at least, The Lost Bear does not compare favourably. And yet, in spite of such a shortfall, there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to Odd Bug Studio’s inaugural foray into PSVR.
Clearly the developers want the audience to take away more from The Lost Bear than a game that it is merely the sum of its mechanical parts. As such, The Lost Bear’s riches are found in the realm of its evocative visual storytelling and heartfelt atmospherics, and it’s here where the game will both endure and persist in memory far longer than its workmanlike platform puzzler beats would otherwise allow.
As reflected in its budget price point (the game retails for $12.99 with an additional 10% launch discount for PlayStation Plus folks), The Lost Bear is another one of those smaller, though no less ambitious efforts on PSVR that will ultimately help to broaden the appeal of Sony’s headset in the long term. As a result, the lesser price point only serves to embellish the appeal of what is already an intriguing little gem that every PSVR owner should try.