Review: A Normal Lost Phone

What would your phone say about you?

By Marc Deschamps. Posted 02/28/2018 01:15 Comment on this     ShareThis
The Final Grade
Editor's Choice
grade/score info
1-Up Mushroom for...
Compelling narrative; great use of Switch hardware; unique soundtrack
Poison Mushroom for...
Over quickly; concept will turn off some players

Over the last decade or so, our cell phones have come to say quite a bit about us. If you lost your phone and someone decided to look through it, what could they find out about you as a person? What story would it tell? It’s something nearly every person has worried about at some time or another, and A Normal Lost Phone takes that concept in a very intriguing direction.

It’s hard to really call A Normal Lost Phone a video game. Instead, it’s more like an interactive experience driven by a rather unusual narrative premise: you’ve found the phone of a missing person named Sam and decide to go through it, looking for clues. The entirety of the game takes place inside the phone: there are no cut scenes or moments that break the fourth wall; it truly looks and feels like someone’s lost cell phone. There’s a calculator, a weather app, a camera roll and more. The phone is, apparently, pre-paid, and there are no minutes with which to call or text. As a result, there’s very little in the way of direction. Most of the gameplay in A Normal Lost Phone revolves around using your own deductive work to figure out ways of accessing things like Sam’s email, online dating profile and more. As you explore more, you find ways of mining more of the phone’s contents, and a story begins to take shape.

The less you know about A Normal Lost Phone’s storyline, the more you’re likely to appreciate it. The title takes some rather interesting twists and turns, and the game does a good job of educating players on the topics it addresses. The story does go in directions that will be controversial to some, however, while other players may quickly grow bored with the rather passive “gameplay.” Because of this, A Normal Lost Phone certainly won’t appeal to everyone. That said, once I was hooked, I couldn’t put the game down. The game took me about three hours or so to complete; by all accounts, not a very long amount of time, but I ended up playing it all in one sitting, unable to pull myself away.

Since this isn’t a conventional game, it’s fitting that A Normal Lost Phone also features a very unconventional soundtrack. All of the tracks are songs found on Sam’s phone, and, upon finishing the game, I found myself wanting to add many of them to my own iPod. It’s a rather mellow soundtrack, with performances by a number of indie musicians. Each track seems carefully selected, and the more you listen, the more you appreciate their presence in relation to Sam’s life. All in all, it’s perfectly fitting for the experience and unlike anything else you’re likely to hear on Switch anytime soon.

Seaven Studio, the team tasked with bringing A Normal Lost Phone to Switch, has really used the platform to great effect: HD Rumble, portrait mode, and touchscreen controls are all present. There are, of course, more traditional options, including a docked mode, but playing Switch in portrait mode with touch screen controls on really amplifies the experience, adding a strong sense of realism to the game. HD Rumble also contributes to this with a small, but notable, touch, giving “alerts” (such as new e-mails) the same sort of vibration one would expect in real life. After a while, you almost forget you’re playing the game on Switch and not actually going through someone else’s phone.

That sense of voyeurism will likely be problematic for some, as it invites some uncomfortable questions about the morality of searching through someone else’s private thoughts, particularly as the game goes on. Sam isn’t a real person, rather a character created for the game, but it’s definitely understandable if players don’t feel comfortable with the game’s central premise. Still, games regularly task players with doing things they might not normally do, and I think it can be argued that the rather unique concept and the seemingly positive intentions on the part of the developers make it easier to overlook.

When my time with A Normal Lost Phone was finished, I had to digest it all. I was left with no more questions; the game does a good job of wrapping things up. But it’s the kind of game that lingers with you, and it’s one I imagine will remain with me for some time. It’s experimental in a way I’ve rarely seen before, truly offering some clever uses for the Switch platform. Some will decry the game for its encouraged voyeurism, but developer Accidental Queens truly seems to be making an attempt at doing something different while addressing a topic rarely seen in video games, or on Nintendo systems at all, for that matter. Personally, I think that’s admirable, and I certainly hope A Normal Lost Phone encourages similar titles to appear on the eShop in the future. It won’t be for everyone, but it’s one of the most unique games currently available on Switch.

Nintendojo was provided a copy of this game for review by a third party, though that does not affect our recommendation. For every review, Nintendojo uses a standard criteria.

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