It seems as though there has been somewhat of a surge in popularity for reading-based games in recent years, such as Gone Home and Depression Quest. One big reason those games were so talked-about was that many gamers criticized them for not being “games,” but rather “interactive stories,” mainly focused on reading pages of text instead of “actually playing.” I feel that this, by itself, is an unfair criticism. I believe that these kinds of games cannot and should not be compared to more traditional titles that place a heavy focus on gameplay, since all kinds of games can offer unique experiences. Plus, there are some games out there that have amazing stories and weak gameplay, but are still considered to be great by most people. For example, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt was criticized for its mediocre combat and “stiff” gameplay, but ended up being widely considered one of the best games of all time (and a favorite of mine), mainly thanks to its astoundingly good writing, storytelling, and voice acting. Of course, story-focused games are not for everyone, and that’s okay.
With all that being said, let’s get into A Normal Lost Phone by developer Accidental Queens. (I will not spoil any part of the story in this review.) The game immediately presents you with nothing but, well, a lost phone. The soundtrack is composed of a list of terrible hipstercore songs on the phone’s music app, but thankfully they can be stopped from playing if you wish (which I did). The gameplay consists of clicking the phone’s screen to navigate it as one would with a typical smartphone. The goal of the game is to figure out who the phone once belonged to, why it was lost, and what happened to the owner. The game is essentially a large puzzle, requiring the player to figure out various passcodes in order to advance the story. The primary way that these passcodes are found is through old text and email conversations. Therefore, if you don’t like doing a lot of reading, you will not like this game. There are an awful lot of messages to sort through.
So, the big question: is it all worth reading? It depends on the player. The story starts off strong with a string of text messages from the owner’s father that will pique your curiosity. The problem is that once you get a general sense of how and where to look for ways to progress, the narrative becomes less engaging. For most of the earlier parts of the game, I enjoyed learning about who the owner was and I legitimately wanted to find out the game’s secrets. However, after a while of playing, I found myself growing a bit bored of reading through every single message, especially without getting any new clues to the mysteries. Another issue I had with the story is that once the “big reveal” happens, the game still goes on for a decent amount of time. (In fact, most of the reading you can do is found after this reveal.) So after you figure out the owner’s secret, the suspense is gone and you’re left with a ton of messages that don’t offer you any more closure to the story (since you will have already pieced most of it together yourself).
Only 4 options? I can see why the owner didn’t want it anymore.
But maybe you’re the type of person who enjoys snooping around in another person’s life, and won’t mind reading deep into their writings for more details on whom they were and what they did. If you enjoy small, narrative-focused games with a large amount of reading and without much gameplay, you’ll probably really like A Normal Lost Phone. On the other hand, there’s really nothing about this game that I can undoubtedly say will attract players who fall outside this description.
Final Rating: 6/10.