Review: A Normal Lost Phone

An experience of conflicted execution.

When I first played a demo for A Normal Lost Phone back at EGX 2016, I blew through the demo far faster than anyone else the developer had watched play it. The fact I was able to do so is both a point worthy of praise, and of criticism. The EGX demo centered around a solving a mystery whose solution is well-written enough it’ll be immediately and glaringly obvious to people with personal experience of the central topic, while obscure enough to work as an effective puzzle for those outside of the personally affected group.

I’m going to talk about what that mystery hinges on after the next image, so, spoiler warning, stick above that point if you want to go into A Normal Lost Phone spoiler-free. The spoiler content is what I feel I most need to discuss.

The full version of A Normal Lost Phone is fleshed out from its prior demo experience, but still the same core mystery and route to a solution. It’s a game about using someone’s phone to piece together a life and make connections the phone’s owner likely did not realise could be made. But it’s also a narrative that ignores the inherent invasive nature of a puzzle game that expects you to dig through a stranger’s personal and private life with no real aim outside of understanding things they clearly did not want you to know.

It’s a well-written and complex story that resembles the realities of a phone belonging to someone of the same background as the protagonist, but it also made me deeply uncomfortable at times to push through.

It’s a game about using someone’s phone to piece together a life and make connection’s the owner likely did not realise could be made.

Right, spoiler town.

A Normal Lost Phone is about digging through an LGBT person’s phone, piecing together indirect clues to the nature of their LGBT identity, and using that knowledge to guess at passwords for their apps, ranging from dating apps to private note accounts.

There’s never any clear reason given why you’re doing this beside it being the goal of the game. If I found a lost phone which was somehow unlocked, my reaction, which I assume is pretty standard, would be to go into the contacts, look for an entry like ‘home’ or ‘mum’, and try to inform the owner that their phone had been located.

I certainly wouldn’t look at what dates photos in the camera roll were taken in the hopes those dates corresponded to passwords so I could answer messages as them. I don’t know anyone who would do that.

I certainly wouldn’t look at what dates photos in the camera roll were taken in the hopes those dates corresponded to passwords so I could answer messages as them. I don’t know anyone who would do that.

This is where my core issue with the game comes in. The LGBT protagonist is realistically written, and the way their phone reveals more about them than they want known is intelligently pulled off, but I just don’t believe in the motivations of the unnamed player character.

I find our silent invisible hero digging through a complete stranger’s phone, and discovering the mystery of that stranger’s personal life, with no real aim besides learning that information, isn’t believable. The protagonist doesn’t make sense to me, even if the phone the narrative centres on is fleshed out in a very real and believable way.

For many of you reading, A Normal Lost Phone will be well worth playing. If you discover the intricacies of the mystery in the path the game intends, you’ll get to explore a phone that feels like it contains a real slice of someone’s personal and private lives. If you, like me, solve the core of the mystery within a few minutes, you may well end up feeling frustrated at the lack of motivation provided for tearing through someone’s intimate information.

I wish I felt more strongly one way or another about A Normal Lost Phone. Right now, I honestly don’t know if I recommend it or not.

The game’s tag-line is “You’ve found a lost phone, now find out the truth”. I don’t understand why anyone feels the information that is available to find anyone’s business but the owner of the phone.

A review copy was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.

Platform: PC [Reviewed], iOS, Android

Developer/Publisher: Accidental Queens / Plug In Digital

Price: £1.99

Release date: Out Now

  • Phone feels like it contains a true slice of life
  • Characters are intelligently written
  • No justification for player motivation

A Normal Lost Phone is a believable slice of an human life that I had no idea why I was digging through.

%

I wanted to love it

Laura's gaming journey began in the 90′s when she was given a SNES by her older brother with Mario paint. From that day video games were all she thought about day or night, be it playing them, designing them, discussing them or writing about them.

%d bloggers like this: