This is literally my nightmare.
I can’t think of anything less normal than using someone else’s phone. In today’s world, few things are as intimate or personal as a person’s phone, acting almost as an open diary incapable of telling lies. Our entire self is mirrored in the texts we send and the sites we visit. I certainly wouldn’t want a stranger to go through my phone. In A Normal Lost Phone, developer Accidental Queens asks players to do exactly that.
Sam, an 18-year-old boy living in his small hometown, dropped his phone. The player finds Sam’s phone with four missed texts and no service. His parents want to call the police. He slowly lost contact with a few friends. He and his girlfriend, who his parents insist is perfect for him, recently broke up. Suffice to say, Sam seems to be a bit of a mess. By digging through his apps and messages, the player slowly uncovers Sam’s motivations, secrets, and very being.
The entire story takes place within an impressive phone interface with each app containing a rich and realistic amount of content. Even smaller ones, like the working calculator and music player, have an obvious level of care put into them. A soft, chalky art style informs the design of every menu and the photos in the gallery. Sam’s playlist is super chill with a drop of teen angst. The phone’s settings has a factory reset button that kicked me out to the title screen. Touché.
Gameplay is mostly just reading messages, and holding the Switch like a phone felt natural. Little puzzles test comprehension and tease out new functionality, like a Wi-Fi connection, allowing players to dig a bit deeper into Sam’s life. The story does an excellent job at raising questions in one app, then hiding the answer deeper in the phone. The in-game calendar app keeps gaining meaning as you gain insight. The puzzle-box storytelling is really well put together.
However, the story itself is a bit cliché. The title screen warns that some characters are homophobic, spoiling the entire game. While following Sam’s journey of self-discovery is still interesting, any LGBT person (or friend of an LGBT person or friend of a friend of an LGBT person) has seen this story. Late in the game, the players unlock conversations that were just a tad too “LGBT self-acceptance brochure” for me. Sure, this section might be helpful for those curious about their own or a loved one’s questions, but it was too long and broad to be a resource. The game might as well have plastered “You Are Normal” over the home screen.
A Normal Lost Phone does a lot of things right: unlocking story bits is interesting, the phone premise pays off, and the atmosphere sells Sam’s character. Seeing such delicate subject matter in a game is nice, but the end game felt a bit preachy without offering anything too helpful. I would definitely play another phone-snooping game with more surprises in the story as I wasn’t blown away by any revelations here.