A Normal Lost Phone is an interesting text-based experience where the player “finds” a phone. I’ve seen this concept done before with a few minor popular titles like Sara is Missing and Mystic Messenger, so it was interesting to see how developer Accidental Queens interpreted this rising genre. The concept is taken in an interesting new direction here, but in some cases it lacks in other areas while doing amazing in others.
The story starts out with who’s just celebrated their 18th birthday and is the owner of the game’s titular ‘lost phone’ the player comes across. Text messages from friends and family indicate Sam has disappeared unexpectedly, the reasons behind it unclear.
Probably one of the most intriguing coming-of-age stories I’ve come across to date, Sam’s story also delves into aspects of LGBTQ in a straightforward way seldom seen in gaming, including the Sam’s preferred use of pronouns (they, their, them). The player goes through Sam’s phone to find out what happened and to understand this person more intimately, their interests in music, and discovering who they truly are over time. Sam appears to have a bright future ahead of them and seems to be loved by everyone, so the question is, what happened?
Sam’s story progresses and delves deep their mind as a person and finding out who they are truly on the inside. Past relationships ending badly, Sam questioning who they truly are as a human being, even a threat to them from another character.
The main focus is navigating through Sam’s phone, reading messages and solving puzzles, though I found the mechanics and certain designs to be hit-and-miss personally. The controls aren’t hard to grasp, but smoother transitions would have been wise when navigating between apps on the phone. I also felt perhaps a small sound prompt like a ‘ding’ or ‘click’ when closing an app or pressing a button on the phone would have been an excellent addition, too.
When it comes to this evolving genre, the main focus is going to be the dialogue between characters and the story that unfolds between them. Sam’s phone is filled with text messages and exchanges from a variety of different characters ranging from a girlfriend, to best friends, and at one point even forum posts.
My main issue is most of the time the dialogue and information doesn’t always feel like it flows naturally. Dialogue between characters can feel like it’s going on too long or could be summed up more eloquently. There were certain conversations between Sam and other characters (like their relationship with a young lady named Melissa) that flowed nicely and help tell the story naturally. This type of progression and natural interaction through text messages I appreciated, but other times certain characters weren’t fleshed out well enough.
There’s also a presentation of key information on who Sam is as a person. When encountering these moments, which I found interesting, it could feel overwhelming at times. There were several paragraphs to go through multiple times and once again I felt the bulk could have been summed up more precisely. While I understood its significance and it plays into the mystery of the story, it felt as if it could have been broken down. Half the time information felt more like lectures than presented naturally by interactions from intimate contacts.
There are a few puzzles scattered throughout the phone too and key clues can be obvious at times. They weren’t difficult to solve, but other times they were presented in a rather clever manner. This gives the player a reason to pay close attention to Sam’s messages and to read through them rather than skimming through the majority of them.
Another issue I encountered was trying to connect with Sam as a player on an emotional level. Logically, I understood their situation and they were going through a tough time, but emotionally it was difficult to connect with them. This is a shame too since Sam has several facets to them as a person like they enjoy reading, playing video games, they’re caring, and enjoy playing the harp.
About halfway through I realized it wasn’t Sam I had a problem with, but the other characters. The entire time Sam felt overshadowed by the huge roster introduced in such a short time frame, interactions, and messages shared between each of them. There times it felt there were too many characters being introduced at once, overshadowing the emotional connection the player is meant to forge with Sam and their situation.
I’m a heavy reader, so going through pages and pages of text has never bothered me. Rather, the layout’s presentation was the real eyesore. Even in full screen mode my eyes were aching having to read through the tiny fonts and clustered paragraphs squeezed onscreen; options for a bigger font size and perhaps separating large paragraphs of information and conversation into more bite-sized chunks would have been welcomed.
Another visual issue I had was the colored background for the phone. I’m nitpicking, but having this design choice confused me since players only interact with the device. Why isn’t this colored background just cut off all together so I’m only seeing the ‘screen’ so to speak of? Opting for a windowed mode would feel more natural and would better mimic the idea that players are truly interacting with a physical phone.
The visual scheme and style of A Normal Lost Phone is minimalist, but this works in its favor. The style leans towards a watercolor inspiration and there’s even some artwork scattered throughout hidden sections of the phone the player can discover. There’s nothing intricate to be found here, but it’s charming.
My favorite part though is the music. I LOVED the music, the entire soundtrack just paired so well with the visual style here. I thought I’d grow tired of hearing the same songs over and over, but this never occurred. The songs are calm and encourage a mellow atmosphere that paired well with the watercolor style.
The concepts presented in A Normal Lost Phone are good, but the player never really seems to step into Sam’s shoes. There were plenty of good ideas presented here I felt weren’t executed well. Perhaps interactions with Sam as their friend, or even playing from their point of view, might have helped flesh out the experience more. This new genre of ‘finding a phone’ is a great new platform, even with the sensitive subjects Sam covers over the course of the story. There’s a lot of potential here for a unique experience, it just has to be fully realized first.