The Nintendo Switch seems like a great format for rhythm action – portable, with a solid control system. But while it is exciting to hear about a rhythm action game on the Switch, unfortunately Lost in Harmony is an imperfectly-ported mashup which has great potential but ultimately disappoints.
Lost in Harmony has an abrupt start – you’re dumped straight into a menu then straight into a game with no tutorial or tips about controls or how the game works. You get nothing. This is a shock to the system to say the least, because there is a lot going on right from the get-go.
There are two stories: the first is about Kaito and his childhood friend who has unfortunately fallen ill, and the second is about a robot called M.I.R.A.I who is trying to flee his own destruction. While the stories are a nice touch, they are not exactly the main attraction, and in reality are far too shallow to be anything more than an extra that you will likely just skip through.
Each level is a cross between an infinite runner, and a more traditional arcade-style rhythm action game. In infinite runner mode, our character careens down a pathway with the camera in front, Crash Bandicoot-style, and you swerve your character left and right between different lanes or jump in order to avoid incoming obstacles. In rhythm action mode, buttons come in from the left and sweep right, for you to press in time as expected. This takes some time to get used to on the Switch, as the buttons are not clearly colour coded or tied to directional arrows, but instead have tiny ABXY labels.
It seems straightforward so far… Except it isn’t. Each scenario – the runner, and the rhythm action – could in themselves be a game. Things get confusing when you mash these two together. Sometimes, the transition between each style will happen without warning or the typical musical cues you would expect, and in later levels there is some true chaos where you have to control your character with one hand while tapping out rhythms with the other. While this should be an exhilarating challenge, since it expects you to grow several sets of eyes and hands in order to pass a level with perfection, the execution is so clumsy that instead of being great it ends up being at best frustrating, and at worst an infuriating insult to the genre.
This is largely because Lost in Harmony is a 2016 mobile game ported to the Switch with imperfect controls. I can see the potential in having to switch between control schemes on a touch screen – using one hand to swipe left and right, and using the other to tap incoming buttons sounds great. But on the Switch, using the touchscreen is practically out of the question. Firstly, swiping your character left and right is more difficult than it should be. To make matters worse, the rhythm action buttons are so tiny and the hitboxes so imprecise that while you can pass by fudging things and in some hilarious cases even tapping way before the button even hits the line, trying to achieve a perfect score (which is the holy grail of rhythm action) is incredibly difficult, unfairly so. One of the rhythm action buttons is also the same button to make your character jump, which means that if you have to jump to avoid an obstacle, you can also be penalised for pressing the rhythm button at the wrong time. These control quirks combine to make the game cross from ‘awkward to play’ to ‘unforgiveable’ territory.
The runner sections aren’t perfect either. The camera angle makes it very difficult to be able to predict where an obstacle is. This could be mitigated by either allowing appropriate timing between incoming obstacles, making strong usage of warning systems and tying obstacles more closely to the rhythm and waves of the music. However, timing is patchy with milliseconds to react, warning/signalling systems are occasional trails of ‘stars’ which are implemented with little consistency, and the runner sections aren’t really tied to the music at all. The game leaves a player high and dry and wholly reliant on superhuman eyesight and reactions, particularly in the later levels. You will inevitably have to take some hits in order to pass, but in a genre which demands the chasing of the perfect score, that the game itself isn’t actually built to make this possible is ridiculous.
As if things couldn’t be worse, all of this is thrown at you with no tutorial, no guidance and no warning. There are no explanations or warnings for the scoring system, any bonuses, or surprise events that might happen, either.
All of the above is a real shame, because the game itself looks beautiful and has good music. There are some lovely graphics with beautiful backgrounds and some sweetly and simple animated story sequences. The music is would be wonderful to play to in any other rhythm action format. There are remixes of classical songs including old favourites like Hall of the Mountain King, Korobeiniki (aka the Tetris theme), a version of the Funeral March which needs to be heard to be believed, and upbeat EDM tracks that are no less fun or catchy to listen to. There’s also even a track by Wyclef Jean in there. The selection alone might be worth dropping a few quid on for the novelty.
Rhythm action is one of my favourite genres, which is what makes this game’s disappointment cut particularly deep. I simply can’t recommend it on the Switch, but if it’s any consolation, it’s still available on mobile… for free.