A Lighthearted Millennial Mystery Game
Publisher: Plug-In Digital
Platform: PC, iOS, Android
MSRP: $2.99
Copy Provided By Publisher

If someone happens to drop their wallet, it’s common practice for someone to go through it in order to figure out who owned it. Most reasonable people will want to see it returned to its owner. You wind up learning a lot about a person this way, though. Their name, their address, what credit cards they use, pictures of their family if they have any. There’s a wealth of personal information to be obtained by simply picking up and rummaging through a lost wallet. Now, imagine if you were to lose your phone and didn’t have some kind of touch ID or a passcode set up. How much could someone learn about you? How much could you learn about a stranger if you picked up theirs?

A Normal Lost Phone sets out to answer that very question. The premise is simple: You, the player, have picked up a phone that somebody dropped. You might want to return it, but it’s yours for now. You are free to explore the previous owner’s texts, emails, browsing history, dating apps - it’s all right there, at your fingertips, and it’s up to you to learn everything you can about who owned this phone. It’s more or less a visual novel with the interface of a common smartphone, which is a unique experience. As such, I’m going to try and keep this review as spoiler-free as possible. As a story, is it worth your time?

Honestly, this is a little terrifying to think about happening to me.

The Good

A Normal Lost Phone sets out to provide players with an intimate storytelling experience, and it does this excellently. The texts feel incredibly genuine, helping to paint our main character, Sam, as kind of a misfit while also kind-hearted, sincere, and deeply troubled. The music helps to accentuate the mood and tone, playing a soft indie soundtrack that is reminiscent of the style of music Sam both listens to and plays. The colors are warm and inviting, drawing the player in and making the long reading experience easy on the eyes. Additionally, the story needs active player participation and investment to progress. There are several passcodes that need to be entered in order to access different parts of the game, and while some puzzles are more difficult than others, they feel like a fun and interesting challenge because all of the information one needs is right there in the game. No outside research is needed.

The game is also loaded to the brim with LGBT representation and a wealth of information about transgender and nonbinary folks. I won’t go into details as to why, because again I’m trying to remain spoiler-free, but it is so apparent that these characters were written with such care, love, and attention as to make them actual people you could meet in the real world. The story is written in such a way that it would be impossible for any player, even those who may be skimming through huge amounts of text while trying to get from one part of the story to the next, to walk away with harmful misconceptions about what it means to be LGBT.

Of course, what game about a smartphone would be complete without needing to ask the famous, “Hey, what’s the Wi-Fi password?”

The Bad

Warning: This Section Contains Minor Spoilers

Unfortunately, for as much fun and enjoyment as I truly got out of A Normal Lost Phone, it does have a few problems that I would like to address. As a minor technical note, the smartphone interface is a little clunky when playing on PC, even with the added buttons that allow you to immediately jump either to the beginning or end of a conversation. Additionally, the game doesn’t have a lot of replay value - if you’ve played it once, that’s about all you need. But my issues lie mainly with, oddly enough, the concept of the game itself and one section of the game in particular.

To be brief, I’ll discuss the portion of the game I have an issue with. While my intention is to remain spoiler-free, people who want to play this game should be warned that there is a character Sam talks to who is the victim of sexual assault, and Sam has also texted the attacker in this scenario as well. It’s incredibly jarring and ultimately does not drive the story. I feel the inclusion of this, while realistic for a high-school setting, was ultimately wholly unnecessary to the story. Narratively speaking, nothing would be lost by the removal of this material, and I see no reason to leave this content to potentially trigger victims who would be forced to vicariously relive their trauma. The game does well enough with this material that, as with the other more positive aspects of what A Normal Lost Phone accomplishes, the impact of this section could be especially disturbing for some. A contribution not wholly earned for its weight in the overall story; drama for drama’s sake, we’ll call its addition.

Thematically, A Normal Lost Phone also has some issues. While I will praise the game endlessly for having such thoughtful LGBT representation, I cannot help but ponder if the game being based on prying into someone’s private life actually lends itself to the idea that LGBT people are not entitled to privacy. With many prevalent issues needing decisions by the government for LGBT folks to exist peacefully in today’s modern society, such as where a person can rightfully relieve themselves, the premise that you are finding out all this information by poking your nose in where you, the player, are not actually invited or wanted makes it seem as though the private lives of LGBT people are meant for common consumption. Again, the game is an overall positive and clearly love-based piece, and I am by no means implying the developers had any cruel or insidious intentions by choosing to create their game in this exact format. Rather, I’m bringing this to light to encourage even more games about LGBT folks, but with the idea that they should be openly inviting the player in, rather than the player prying into someone’s most private thoughts.

Like, I for one would not have poked around some rando’s dating profile had I not been forced to by the game. I’d hope most people are the same.

Final Thoughts

Despite its problems, A Normal Lost Phone is still a game I strongly recommend to anyone who likes a good story. It is a sweet, lovely experience, full of wonder and a sense of adventure and mystery despite being a story on such a small scale. The characters are as rich and vibrant as the art, and the story is so organic and real that I feel anyone could enjoy it. The music is beautiful and entertaining, helping capture you in the experience. Additionally, there’s a lot of content within the game that I feel would be incredibly relatable for just about anyone, making it possible for players from all walks to live and feel like they’re a little bit like Sam, too. And for only $2.99, that’s an incredibly valuable story, even if it can be really only played once. I know I had a great time experiencing this game, and I hope that you will too.