Coming off the recent stunningly beautiful Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, we’re big fans of games that circumvent expectations and try something new. Hellblade teases gamers of permadeath that likely doesn’t exist but the impact resonates with new players. Like Journey’s quiet revelation that you’re playing with others the entire time or Morai’s dark and introspective reveal that you’ve already decided the fate of another player, innovation like this is rare in games.
However it’s critical for mobile games to stand out when responsive controls is basically impossible. Some of our favorites like Sword and Sworcery or Ridiculous Fishing defy expectations with novel or addictive gameplay that makes the frustrations of playing on your mobile device worth it. A Normal Lost Phone is one such game that tries something that’s bizarrely obvious but completely original.
The game begins as you find an abandoned phone. In fact, the game is the phone, on your phone. When you start you’re faced with a basic phone UI, a handful of apps you can try, there’s even a functional calculator. Yes, you’ve found a stranger’s phone that happens to be unlocked and the game all but nudges you start snooping through this individual’s privacy.
The game itself is about unlocking access to private apps and messages that belong to this person, a young adult named Sam. You’ll need to hunt through the history of text messages and emails to find clues about how to unlock certain dating services or access other parts of the phone. How much this creeps you out depends on the player but considering where this story goes and the tragic confusion the virtual Sam is experiencing, we frequently felt like we had no business reading what the game wanted us to read.
To its credit the game is fairly convincing to appear to be a phone. More times that we cared to admit we would try to back out of an app hitting the home button on our actual phone exiting the game completely instead of using the game’s UI. The fact no other game has embraced the idea of being on phone as well as this one is stunning. This idea is obvious but still remarkable to play. We just wish we didn’t feel so dirty exploring Sam’s private life.
It’s a great concept and should have been done like 10 years ago. From a game development perspective, the basic but effective design should be studied by new garage-based developers eager to explore new ideas.
What doesn’t work
It’s concept is just creepy and we never really got passed that. We also couldn’t help but feel like some of the personal issues addressed here were managed better in other games like Gone Home or the Left Behind DLC for The Last of Us.
Overall: Good but skippable
Again, the idea of this game is a no brainer, it’s just not much fun to play and really does release your inner creep as you hunt wildly for additional ways to access Sam’s most intimate personal issues.