Imagine you found a phone lying in the street. It’s locked but you can see a couple of messages on the screen you’re able to thumb through.
You come across one wishing the phone’s owner ‘happy birthday’ and you decide to give the birthdate a try as the code. Before you know it, you’re thumbing through messages and photos, looking through the life of the person who dropped this device in the street.
That’s the conceit that lies behind Lost Phone Stories, which is a bundle containing two games – A Normal Lost Phone and Another Lost Phone – that I first saw in a demo format at the A MAZE games festival in Johannesburg two years ago. A Normal Lost Phone was by far and away one of the most intriguing games I’d come across, so it’s quite heartening to see that not only has it made its way to Steam and the Switch (along with its sequel). Lost Phone Stories, however, I have to admit boasts only niche appeal.
The reason for this is that Lost Phone Stories involves a lot of reading. There is no action in this package to speak of. It’s a game in which players take on the role of a detective who delves deep into the lives of their subjects. In order to advance, players need to comb through every inch of the user interface (UI); for example, if they want access to the emails in one of the phone they need to find out the Wi-Fi password, and the only way they get that is if they manage to find it in one of the lengthy conversations the phone’s owner had with one of the characters in their life.
On the Switch, players are encouraged to use the console as a massive phablet – the UI is laid out like a smartphone, complete with tabs for messages, emails, games, music and more – and use the touchscreen to examine the game’s content. They can play it on their TV using the traditional controller, too, but the first option feels more natural.
It really is a very novel way to tell a story and the plots in both games are genuine heart-tuggers. The first involves a kid named Sam who has disappeared and his friends are frantically searching for him, for reasons that soon become clear. The second centres on a woman named Laura, whose relationship raises more than a little cause for concern.
Lost Phone Stories isn’t a traditional console experience; it’s more like curling up on the sofa with a good book than a skill test. It also has no replay value – once the plots have unfolded, there’s not much else to do. But it’s certainly worth playing if you’re a sucker for a good yarn and a rather interesting outlier in gaming as a medium.