We are more connected to our phones than ever before. They never leave our sides and we entrust them with our most personal secrets. To anyone else, our phones offer a glimpse into our true selves. The premise of A Normal Lost Phone is simple, you find a phone and are tasked with figuring out what happened to its owner. What follows is a complex tale of an individual on the cusp of adulthood, one struggling to define their identity. In the roughly 2 hours that the game took to beat I got to know the protagonist Sam, rifled through his emails, broke into his online dating account and analyzed his personal relationships. As a result, I was offered a unique perspective on a group of people grossly misrepresented in modern media. But perhaps I am saying too much.
A Normal Lost Phone is presented as a simple phone interface, with several standard applications you can interact with. Email, photos, and an online dating section are all available for you to search through. And search you will, as the mystery of what happened to 18-year-old Sam is tantalizing throughout. Upon starting the game up, 4 unread messages from Sam’s father are received. The messages make it abundantly clear that Sam has gone missing. This is the only information you have to work with. A puzzle game of sorts, A Normal Lost Phone requires players to search through Sam’s phone to crack the various passwords needed to advance the story. There are hundreds of messages to read through, audio files to find and a calendar to dissect. These mechanics fuel the player’s curiosity, driving them to find out what had really happened to Sam.
The game’s tone is most reminiscent of 2013’s Gone Home. From the outset, there is a sense that all is not well, that something terrible has happened, and it is your duty to work out what. As the game plays out this feeling of unease evolves into one of mystery and ultimately hope. I am being intentionally vague here as giving any more away about the story would seriously detract from the overall experience. The main hook of the game stems from the player knowing very little and piecing the story together themselves.
One of the main reasons the game works so well is in its authenticity. While there are indeed hundreds of messages to go through, only a handful are required reading in order to beat the game. The rest are merely there to flesh out the world. This results in a painstakingly accurate depiction of what an 18-year old’s phone is like. That means romance, drama, insecurity and plenty of heart. And players patient enough will discover exactly that. It’s the attention to detail which really sets A Normal Lost Phone apart.
A Normal Lost Phone is a perfect example of how mobile gaming can be a platform for short but meaningful experiences. It costs under $5 and can be played on Android and iPhone. The user interface is much like that of a real phone, making it easy and intuitive to navigate. It’s simple, yes. But the story told here is a hefty one, with fleshed out characters and a satisfying resolution. It’s experiences like A Normal Lost Phone which prove that even in the over-saturated, often vapid market of mobile gaming, great storytelling can shine through.