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Lost Phone Stories review for Nintendo Switch, PC


Platform: Nintendo Switch
Also On: PC
Publisher: Plug In Digital
Developer: Accidental Queens / Seaven Studio
Medium: Digital
Players: 1
Online: No
ESRB: M

If intentions and ideas were everything, Lost Phone Stories would have a lot going for it.

After all, from a gameplay perspective, it offers something you don’t see all that often: a text adventure that tells its story via clues you have to find while searching through a lost phone. There’s no denying that that’s a pretty inventive approach, taking the found art approach of storytelling taken by some walking simulators and pushing it even further.

Moreover, the two games included here — A Normal Lost Phone and Another Lost Phone: Laura’s Story — touch on some pretty heady themes that you don’t usually see video games try and handle. I don’t want to spoil anything just yet, but it’s always welcome when games are willing to embrace their role as an artistic medium to try and explore themes that don’t usually get explored.

Unfortunately, as praiseworthy as some elements of Lost Phone Stories may be, the whole package still leaves a lot to be desired.

For one thing, even if the themes are worth exploring, the way they’re presented here still feels more than a little creepy and voyeuristic. To some extent that’s kind of the point of these two games, but, as Kotaku wrote about in a spoiler-heavy piece on A Normal Lost Phone, that doesn’t make it any less exploitative or problematic. As much as you want to see video games demonstrate that they’re equipped to cover mature issues like sexual identity and domestic violence, they need to be able to do so with nuance and care — which, obviously, isn’t really possible when the whole point of the game is “read text messages and emails, find secrets, use secrets to progress”.

For another thing, to work Lost Phone Stories needs really compelling stories — after all, both games rely on being so interesting and engaging that you can’t help but want to search through the phones to figure out what to do next. And, quite frankly, they don’t succeed. On the one hand, I fully recognize that the fact I’m a straight male may make it harder for me to appreciate the stories being told here, and that the simple act of representation can matter a lot if you’re coming from an underrepresented group. At the same time, though, there’s no reason why a trans teen’s story or a battered woman’s story should be any less interesting than what you’d usually get in a video game. In fact, if anything, you’d think sheer novelty would make them even more interesting. That they’re not — and I’ll point again to that Kotaku article for a good breakdown of why A Normal Lost Phone doesn’t work on a storytelling level — suggests that the stories here just aren’t that good.

Which is a shame, because you always want to see games try new things — which Lost Phone Stories undeniably does. Unfortunately, it also undeniably isn’t that good at making those new things engaging, and for that reason, it ends up being less “Check this game out!”, and more “Its intentions are admirable.”

Plug In Digital provided us with a Lost Phone Stories Switch code for review purposes.

Grade: C-