Hello? Is It Orwell You’re Looking For?
HIGH Calling 911 on the phone right away.
LOW Trying to click a button a hundred times and failing miserably.
WTF Forgetting the password to unlock the smartphone.
Games about unlocking an unknown person’s phone have become a niche market since A Normal Lost Phone and others like it gained prominence. Replica was originally released in 2016, so the premise and its messages criticizing South Korea’s Patriot and Anti-Terrorism Acts were refreshing at the time. Unfortunately, four years have passed since then and the novelty of the approach has worn off.
Much like others in the same genre, Replica offers the same tasks associated with unlocking a phone and accessing apps by looking at pictures, text messages and clues on social networks. The political content comes as the player is guiding a government agent trying to find out what acts of rebellion the owner of said smartphone has been carrying out.
To be blunt, Replica’s play hasn’t aged well and the puzzles are rather straightforward — just select whatever words or phrases could be used as a password. If the selection is correct, the password or deduction will be saved. There is no built-in hint system, but the player’s supervisor will chime in with suggestions every now and then. Unfortunately, he’s nowhere to be found when help is needed.
While I appreciate the political sentiments and its critiques of dubious acts by the South Korean government (and Lord knows we need more people speaking up against Orwellian acts of online surveillance) Replica doesn’t have much to say. The writing establishes characters and facts with little passion or intrigue — it seems content to describe rather than analyze. The government is evil, our supervisor is a nasty piece of work, the kid we’re investigating is obviously innocent, and so forth. That’s really all there is to it, without nuance or subtlety.
Replica has many endings, but in order to see each one, it’s required to reset the phone and start from the beginning every time. Luckily it’s a short experience, lasting no more than an hour (or less) but still, some concessions could have been made here.
Technically, Replica has issues. For example, little has been done to maximize the Switch platform. Originally designed to work on a smartphone in portrait mode, the player is stuck using 40% of the screen’s real estate, which translates into a rather miserable experience.
Replica was likely fine as a 2016 mobile title, but it’s hard to recommend something that’s little more than a one-hour collection of simple puzzles and a basic story. Its heart is surely in the right place, but that’s about all I can say for it.
— Damiano Gerli
Disclosures: This game is developed by Somi and published by Playism. It is currently available on iOS, PC, and Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on Switch. Approximately 1.5 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: The game is rated T by the ESRB for Language and Mild Violence. While nothing much happens and everything is described in text, the topics of authoritative government and censorship are recommended for a teen audience.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: All dialogue is carried out via text and the game employs the Switch rumble effects to simulate the smartphone’s notifications and ringtones. Text can’t be altered or resized in any way. This game is fully accessible. (See examples above.)
Remappable Controls: The controls are not remappable, but that doesn’t change much since both control methods seem to be wildly inaccurate. On the touchscreen, the player can try to directly click the buttons to interact, much like a real smartphone. With the joypads, using the L or R analogue levers moves the cursor and with the buttons one interacts with the smartphone.
Years later, he got the idea that he was the most Sega-knowledgeable person in the world, so he opened a website in 1997, The Genesis Temple.
He's a sucker for great stories in gaming, he loves adventure and indie titles, but he never shies away from action and triple-A RPGs.
Damiano's been writing about videogames for 20 years, with no plans to stop. Say hi to him on Twitter at @damgentemp, or on his blog https://genesistemple.com (now dedicated to the history of video game design).