Originally released as a mobile game in 2016, DigixArt’s Lost in Harmony has now arrived on Nintendo Switch with new controls. And as far as rhythm games go, Lost in Harmony is ambitious. It wants to use music not just to entertain the player, and not even just to tell a rich story—it wants to use music to dictate every aspect of the game’s design. However, underneath the ambition and the artistry is a game with a very clumsy execution. Lost in Harmony for Switch isn’t a game I can recommend to anyone except hardcore lovers of rhythm games.
Lost in Harmony takes gameplay elements from two different types of rhythm games and forces them together. First, it takes the on-rails format of something like Audiosurf and reverses the direction, so that the player’s character is always headed toward the foreground. Diverse obstacles to dodge on the track come from all sides, and they are all synchronized with the music. There is “stardust” to collect on the track too. So far, so good. But then it also adds in a timed-button-press mechanic—like in Theatrhythm, but without touch controls—and it’s completely disconnected from the dodging and collecting mechanics. In any given level, the game transitions back and forth between these two different play styles, and sometimes it’s jarring.
Furthermore, on rare occasions, the player has to dodge, collect, and hit timed button presses all at once. It’s ultimately too much to manage or to enjoy, like being forced to eat a cheeseburger that also has four scoops of caramel ice cream in it. And the controls aren’t up to the task of managing it all either: The dedicated jump button is also one of the buttons used for timed button presses, and jumping to avoid an obstacle can sometimes ruin a score combo. It’s just a terrible idea that did not translate well from the mobile version. I have to assume all of this schizophrenic gameplay was less of a problem with touch controls in the mobile version.
The problems go beyond the controls though. The game itself is just cheap with its difficulty. Obstacles closer to the foreground will obscure obstacles that are farther back, making it hard to see what’s coming next sometimes. Additionally, the player character’s head is so big in one mode that I couldn’t see oncoming obstacles behind it sometimes.
But confusing controls and mechanics aside, the actual music in Lost in Harmony is pretty good. It’s orchestral, moody, or uplifting as the situation calls for it. I prefer the original songs in the soundtrack the most, but there are also remixes of famous music, like a questionable dubstep version of “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.” Regardless, the music is not the problem with this game. Everything else is.
From the title screen of Lost in Harmony, the player can choose between two stories: “Kaito’s Adventure” and “M.I.R.A.I.’s Escape.” They play almost identically, with the main difference being that M.I.R.A.I.’s levels are much shorter. “Kaito’s Adventure” is about a skater boy and a skater girl, with the story being told via text messages. The girl gets a debilitating disease, and all of the levels in this story take place in the boy’s dreams while he has his headphones on. Thus, every level is a manifestation of both the boy’s musical tastes and his anguish over his friend’s condition.
In turn, the level landscapes are highly varied—the beach, in town, forests, volcanoes, the future, outer space, etc. The graphical style is distinct and functional, but clearly the work of an indie studio working on a budget. Obstacles come in the form of cars, bears, and nuclear bombs, among other things. (These elements are recycled for “M.I.R.A.I.’s Escape.”) I can’t criticize them for lack of imagination.
I can, however, criticize the narrative of “Kaito’s Adventure” for being trite and vapid. The text messages are boring and don’t do anything that a million other “dying girl” stories haven’t done already. It ultimately all felt like artistic posturing to me—nothing but a lazy and predictable framing device.
By comparison, “M.I.R.A.I.’s Escape” is just a zany story about a musical robot running away to Earth and getting famous. It’s stupid, but at least in a pseudo-entertaining way. His levels are more energetic too. My only major complaint with his story is his big head.
With “Kaito’s Adventure” and “M.I.R.A.I.’s Escape,” the player can unlock cosmetic items to customize character appearance, but they’re all very basic and uninspired. In fact, the only thing that can be changed about the robot is the color scheme of his face, which is ridiculously lazy. Even worse, the menus themselves are buggy. The layout of the cosmetic items doesn’t correctly fit the Switch screen, for instance. And there were two times where the controls just stopped working in the menus, and I had to close the entire game and restart in order to play again.
Lost in Harmony on Switch tries to do a lot of things and fails at most of them. It attempts to put a deeper artistic twist on the rhythm genre but comes across as trite and half-baked instead. Similarly, the game mechanics and controls clash instead of jell, and too often the game’s difficulty stems from cheapness instead of clever design. The game is just a head-scratcher from top to bottom, in ways big and small. Like, why is a teenage boy listening to “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” and “Ride of the Valkyries” in his headphones, remix or not? It’s all so frivolous.
Still, for gamers who love the rhythm genre and want to experience every new thing it has to offer, they should play Lost in Harmony. They will appreciate the game’s experimentation, at the very least. (I did, anyway.) But maybe they should skip the Switch version and play it on a phone instead, the way it was clearly intended. In fact, maybe everyone would be better off just playing the game for free on a phone with touch controls.