Title: A Normal Lost Phone
Platform: Steam (reviewed), iOS, Android
Developer: Accidental Queens
Publisher: Plug in Digital
Release Date: Out Now
TL;DR: A meta puzzle game best played on mobile or tablet.
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There are two kinds of people: people who lose things and people who find things. Me? I’m someone who loses things. When I went to Disneyland Paris as a child I left my Pokemon Red cartridge – with a level 99 Charizard – in the hotel room and to this day, I still wonder who found it. I’ll never know what kind of person found my game but they have a pretty good idea of my childhood self. A Normal Lost Phone offers us “loser,” people an idea of what it’s like to find something – a phone – and makes you figure out what fate has befallen its missing owner – Sam.
The UI of the game mimics the design and feel of a touchscreen phone. Players use text messages, photo galleries, and e-mails to figure out what happened to Sam. Whilst many games have begun to implement phones as tools to use in-game, the move to make it the over-arching feature initially seemed limited to me; sure it’s an interesting idea but how much of a story can be explored from a phone with eight apps? But Accidental Queens’s set up, decorated with innocuous apps and day to day communications, is the perfect setting for the story to unfold.
The game opens with four messages from Sam’s dad, each message developing the growing dread of a parent trying to find out whether his son is safe. The messages are used as a way point, though a well disguised one, and as I moved forward I only wanted to alleviate the father’s worry. This is something that the game delivers well throughout: with such limited methods of developing characters, Accidental Queens have created a believable cast. Each contact is distinctive from the others simply through the language and style of writing you see throughout the various messages which is an impressive feat in itself.
In order to solve the mystery that is Sam, you’ll have to take on the role of a pseudo-hacker to get connected to the internet, poke your nose through e-mails, and uncover the passwords to different apps and websites. The passwords needed can be quite tricky to uncover; these are not puzzles where you look in the background of a picture and find a note saying: “Password: 1234” or where you organise some shapes in the correct order, instead you have to demonstrate an understanding of the various characters.
Some clues can be quite trivial in part and reading an entire conversation only to realise you’re snooping through idle chit-chat is a virtuous frustration of the art of detection. But once you crack the first puzzle, there’s scope to better understand the character’s thought process and how they might craft a password. As the player, your connection with the characters is subtle and builds slowly, yet however far you get in the game is reflective of how much you have grown to understand Sam.
As with any game, once the primary storyline becomes clear it will be quite divisive. Some of you will be satisfied with where the game takes you and others will feel let down. Personally, I was quite pleased with how the story unfolded and once you complete the game and look through the messages once again, all the content does offer clues as to what the theme of the story was going to be.
What makes ANLP an enjoyable experience is the way that it reels you in. You’re given just enough directives to understand what it is you’re trying to achieve and the game maintains an excellent balance of freedom in what you want to do versus what you need to do on the phone meaning that you are able to follow various strands of conversations in the hope of understanding what happened to Sam.
It’s this overarching objective – find out what happened – that makes you address all the content of the phone with an analytical eye, you’ll want to read everything and make notes about the characters you come across. What the game excels at though is forming a connection and understanding of not only Sam but the surrounding cast within his phone. It is this understanding of the characters that allows you to figure out the information you need to delve deeper into the phone. For a game with a simplistic UI design, Accidental Queens have demonstrated that it is the words we read that develop characters rather than slick aesthetics.
I recommend that you play it on a mobile or tablet. I reviewed a Steam version of the game and using a mouse to scroll up and down the messages can be a little false and ultimately challenges the realism of the game. A Normal Lost Phone is an incredibly simple looking game. It achieves a great deal through its normality and it will be a well spent couple of hours if you choose to play it.
- Interesting design for a game
- Great soundtrack
- Develops characters well with limited resources
- There is little reason to play it a second time
- The lack of direction with puzzles may irritate some players
Rated 12+. There is strong language and adult themes throughout.
Disclaimer: This review is based on a retail version of the game provided by Plug in Digital