The fame of Japanese animation house Studio Ghibli has only continued to grow since it won an Oscar for Best Animated Feature with 2001’s Spirited Away, and game developers have increasingly drawn inspiration from its output in that time, too. Case in point: Lost Twins 2, a platform-puzzler with a look and feel we can only describe as ‘Ghibli-esque’. About two youngsters traversing a gentle yet vibrant fantasy world, it mixes 2D animated characters with 3D backgrounds, creating a world that feels not unlike Ni no Kuni – a series of games which, of course, began as a collaboration between Level 7 and Studio Ghibli.
Where the Ni no Kuni games were typically sprawling RPG epics, however, Lost Twins 2 is altogether more intimate. Its levels are small puzzle boxes which have to be carefully manipulated so you can move your twin protagonists from place to place, interact with objects, and ultimately reunite them at an exit which leads to the next area.
It’s not unlike the mechanic presented in Sunhead Games’ top-down adventure Carto, where chunks of the world map could be picked up and moved around, like a sliding puzzle; here, though, the mechanic is applied to a side-scrolling platformer, where you switch between controlling your two characters and shifting chunks of level around to open up new platforms and pathways for them to jump across.
Obviously, Lost Twins 2 is a sequel (see below for more information about the original), but its move from mobile to computers and consoles has allowed developer Playdew to push both the platforming and puzzles further than before. “The basic mechanics of the game are still the same,” the studio explains via email, “but since puzzle-platformers are much easier to play on a PC or Mac, we added a bit of arcade-style platforming – timing jumps and interactions that weren’t present in the previous version. For the puzzles, we have a larger space, so we increased the play area in each tile of the environment. While the whole level is a big puzzle, the single tile can have mini-puzzles to solve, which is an addition to the fun of the gameplay. We have introduced newer puzzle elements in the game.”
To underline the anime feel, Lost Twins 2’s characters and objects are entirely drawn and animated by hand; the polygonal environments, meanwhile, give the fantasy world a sense of depth – though there’s more to the mix of 2D and 3D than just aesthetics, as the studio explains. “The characters are in 2D, painted like Studio Ghibli movies, but for the environments, we choose to go for 3D. That helps us keep the environments separate enough from the puzzle elements and the characters, so there’s a clear distinction between the interactable objects and the environment.”
Ensuring that the 2D and 3D elements combined to create a coherent-looking world proved to be one of the game’s major hurdles, however – particularly as the levels need to be legible in two states: both zoomed in, where you’re controlling the characters, and zoomed out, where you’re manipulating the configuration of the map itself. The studio tells us: “The biggest challenge [was] coming up with an art style that would suit both the zoomed in and zoomed out view without looking awkward, creating a clutter or confusion for the gameplay while maintaining the mood of the game that we want. Hand-painted stuff – sketches or paintings – hardly ever looks the same [from image to image], which isn’t the case with 3D. Three-dimensional art intrinsically always looks consistent, and that was the main challenge: making non-repetitive environments and giving them each individuality in terms of visual design. We used a lot of baked lighting and small modular environment kits to break up the monotony. We also tried to work on setting up the ambience in our scenes using effects and fog.”
Like many of Studio Ghibli’s films, there’s an air of dreamlike mystery to Lost Twins 2: take the ethereal bird seen hovering in each level, for example, which is one of the major non-player characters in the game. Based on the fenghuang bird of Chinese mythology – a creature not unlike a phoenix – it serves as a guide of sorts, since it awaits the twins at each exit they make their way towards. A character the studio spent a great deal of time and effort designing, it’s also one of the game’s most enigmatic: “There’s more to its story,” the team says. “We don’t know if the bird is guiding the twins to help them… or does it have another plan altogether? That’s something you’ll probably figure out from playing the game.”
The company behind the Lost Twins games has come a long way since its founding in 2010. Back then, there was WeRPlay – a firm created to provide QA, art, and similar development services to other game studios. Gradually, though, WeRPlay tentatively moved into making its own games, among them the endless runner Run Sheeda Run, 2D shooter Explottens, and of course, the original Lost Twins. Encouraged by the success of its initial run of games, Playdew was established as a sister company in 2021. “We finally decided that the team was capable of making good games and should be operating separately from the services company,” the studio explains. “Lost twins 2 is being developed by the same team that worked on the previous title – there’s been, a change/addition of a few members, but essentially the core team is the same, just under a different name.”