The Lost Bear is one of a growing number of VR titles that are trying something other than giving players a first-person experience. Looking at the ever-growing list of available titles, the vast majority are either shooters or horror games; so it’s refreshing to come across a third-person, side-scrolling puzzle platformer. The game itself tells the tale of a young girl called Walnut making her way through a dangerous world in search of her beloved teddy bear.
The game begins with Walnut and her older brother venturing from their woodland home in search of food, teaching the player basic mechanics and arming our heroine with a slingshot. Having completed their task Walnut takes her leave to enjoy a little play time, whilst her brother takes their meal home. Whilst sat on the edge of a cliff Walnut accidentally drops her teddy bear, which tumbles into the clutches of the dreaded Toy Snatcher. The Lost Bear follows Walnut’s adventures as she pursues the Toy Snatcher across a world fraught with danger.
Walnut’s journey takes her deep into the wilderness, further and further from the safety of home and the protection of her big brother. The Toy Snatcher is not the only insidious being in The Lost Bear’s story, as Walnut falls afoul of a pack of steam-punk inspired mechanical wild dogs. There are also plenty of pitfalls that can spell the end of Walnut’s story, as a mistimed jump or spending too long stood on a structurally weak beam can lead to her demise. Luckily, Walnut finds a protector in a surrogate to her favourite toy (a Gentle Ben-like grizzly bear) that comes to her aid in the face of insurmountable odds.
As I have in the past, I wondered just how a third-person perspective game would work once I donned my headset. What I was met with was a private showing of a quasi-animated cardboard cut-out puppet show, similar to watching a Punch & Judy show complete with metallic curtains being pulled back to reveal the world within. The action is front and centre, though the fourth wall is broken at times. Looking around, I found that I was sat in an old, yet comfy looking armchair with surroundings that matched the scenery “on stage”. The colour palette is stylised to give the effect of hand-painted watercolours, which suits the animation style perfectly and changes subtly from chapter to chapter.
There’s an almost complete lack of dialogue in-game, both written and spoken – save for two brief exchanges between Walnut and her brother. The sound effects suit the cartoon/animation style that the devs have opted for, the same of which can be said of the music which changes tempo based on the pace of the gameplay. That being said, I can’t recall too much about the soundtrack, which is quite often the mark of a well-scored game.
The Lost Bear is played with the DualShock4 to control movement and interactions with certain objects and, in a rare occurrence, makes use of the pad’s inbuilt accelerometer. The motion controls are put to good use and fit naturally into the game. The accelerometer is used for a few purposes: aiming Walnut’s slingshot and, in one particular chapter, lighting Walnut’s surroundings. Should Walnut find a winch or lever to lower a bridge or move a platform, a mechanical contraption ratchets out and towards you from underneath the armchair upon pressing the square button. The controller then needs to be placed in the corresponding slot in the device to move the on-screen obstacle. When you’ve completed the action, the machine can be retracted by pressing square again. The motion-based interactions feel alien and awkward at first, though it soon becomes second nature as the game progresses.
The Lost Bear’s puzzles are just taxing enough that they present a challenge, without making it feel unfair or overly difficult. The vast majority involve the use of Walnut’s slingshot or manoeuvring platforms into place so Walnut can reach an otherwise inaccessible ledge. There are a few sequences where Walnut is pursued by the wild dogs, giving a sense of urgency to proceedings as opposed to the otherwise sedate pace of the game. The platforming to puzzles ration is just about right, so as not to induce boredom of one or the other.
If I were pressed to give three words with which to sum up The Lost Bear, I’d say charming but short. The game evoked some wonderful memories of stop-motion children’s TV shows like Ivor The Engine and Mr Benn; I also thought that some of the characters wouldn’t look out of place in a Roal Dahl book. The story is wonderfully told and left me with a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. The only issue is that the game won’t take any longer than a couple of hours from title to end credits, luckily the game is priced accordingly; though I’d happily pay more to spend more time in the world that Fabrik Games has created.