Hardly anyone is playing Lost Sea, a game developed by Eastasiasoft that has no Wikipedia page and only 12 very average reviews on Metacritic. Available for a few dollars, my wife and I downloaded the strange little title and have played around 24 hours of it this week. It’s not very good, but we’ve loved every second and can’t stop playing.

“This is not just another nostalgic game.”  

The premise of the game is pretty strong: you are lost in the Bermuda Triangle and must escape. The area has claimed a lot of planes in its past, but it has absorbed many other things too, including dinosaurs and UFOs. Battling these enemies and exploring the bizarre landscapes of the triangle, your task is more or less simple: survive. The execution of this idea is, on the contrary, pretty poor. The game is one of the most repetitive on the PS4, with every stage resembling the last in everything except difficulty level and color-scheme. The character control leaves a lot to be desired, the map is confusing, and the graphics and design are average — not to mention the glitches.

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But this game has something that no other PS4 game does, and this keeps us playing and enthralled: it has what I can only think to call nostalgic gameplay. Videogames and nostalgia are pretty inseparable these days, and most games prey on at least one variety of nostalgia. It’s something I’ve written about many times, essentially criticizing videogames of being too attached to the past and failing to look forwards. But let’s face it, nostalgia can be fun. However, this is not just another nostalgic game, and indeed its premise is highly original. The nostalgia in Lost Sea is different. Usually, nostalgia appears via images and style. Stardew Valley has the look of Harvest Moon; Undertale and To the Moon the look of Earthbound and Final Fantasy, and so on and so on. In the case of Lost Sea it is the actual gameplay which recalls the pleasures of past gaming.

“Lost Sea produces a kind of tension that I haven’t felt since the Sega MegaDrive.”  

The combat is not unlike Zelda on the Gameboy, though it looks completely different. The boss, who retreats at the end of every ‘Zone’ and faces you again at the end of the next, is like Doctor Robotnik of Sonic or Bowser of the early Mario games. He is beaten by striking him just 3 times, with the difficulty of achieving this rising at each meeting. The highlight of all this gameplay nostalgia is its arcade-style forcing you to reset the whole game in the event of a ‘game over.’ In the world of the auto-save, this recalls a very frustrating and peculiar type of pleasure.  You build your character, as you do in the completely opposite worlds of Dark Souls and Diablo, learning new skills and developing new techniques as you progress, but these are ferociously stripped from you upon a single death and you must begin anew from the very start.

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The game will take literally days to complete and no one has recorded doing so on How Long to Beat as of yet. It is very difficult, and we have some way to go. The game produces a kind of tension that I haven’t felt since the Sega MegaDrive (or Genesis for yanks), and is an older style of enjoyment that is really lost in almost all modern gaming; one which I, for one, would like to see return. Lost Sea, though pretty dreadful when looked at from a certain angle, could herald the return of an older style of frustrating pleasure-producing challenge that the videogame world has nearly lost in its own Bermuda Triangle.

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Alfie bothered to write an academic book on Candy Crush & Capitalism. He plays PS4 one-handed because he can put down neither the controller nor his baby.

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