Thomas Was Alone Review

thomas-was-alone-bannerSteam is both the best thing to happen to the game industry within the past few years and the worst.  I’d be surprised if more than 10% of people who actively use the service have a fully up to date collection of games with no backlog whatsoever.  But with my already decent library, I picked up a few games I hope to trail blaze through.  So here’s what I think about the 2012 title, Thomas Was Alone.

Thomas Was Alone Review
Release Date: 24/7/2012
Platforms: PC (Reviewed), Mac, Linux PS3, PS Vita
Developer: Mike Bithell
Publisher: Mike Bithell

I normally like to begin these things with a premise of the title, as is the almost uniform formula for a review of, well, pretty much all entertainment.  Yet, Thomas Was Alone comes right out the gate with a very ambiguous plot about a group of single colored quadrilaterals who are jumping and travelling through a world only given details with other, darker rectangles that fill the minimalist backgrounds.  Yes, this is very clearly a title aiming for a more abstract world, but my problem with the general set of lore, and with most ambiguous plots, is that I’m not sure what exactly is suppose to be going on from a narrative perspective.

Start up the game and you’re being told by a narrator with a lovely British accent about what a red rectangle named Thomas is thinking about as he travels in a world that, if I had to guess, is some sort of abstract representation of a computer.  I’m all for more intricate plots, with a lot being left up to the consumer’s interpretation, but when I’m being thrown simply named colored shapes and being told about their adventures, I can’t help but feel as if I missed the memo.TA Commentary

That aside, the actual bits of story woven in are quite nice, with the narrator not being afraid to be a bit silly at times when explaining how a square views herself as a superhero.  And given the limited amount of monologue that fills this three hour long title, the characters presented do have a sizable amount of personality.  Though it does rub against the old story telling tactic of showing and not telling, as the characters in question are just blocks that you have hop around until you find a hole shaped like them.

Which leads nicely enough into the gameplay aspects.  At the end of the day, the game is fairly bare bones platformer that could be controlled with six inputs, counting the four primary directions.  You hop from the platforms, and switch between an assortment of blocks to guide all the others to their respective locations through a hundred levels.  It is rather simple, but that doesn’t mean poorly designed by any means.  While a handful of the levels did have aspects that felt like busywork, due to how you control up to and including nine blocks in a given level, the core game actually has a very smooth curve of challenge.  Not that it even came close to overbearing, as there were only a few levels where I had to reset or sit back and look at everything for a minute and figure out what I needed to do to get these blocks home.ta2

Yet the actual platforming is very well built, and abilities held by the various types of blocks are enjoyable enough on their own.  Though, a few times I completed a level, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I wasn’t suppose to nudge the normal gravity and inverted gravity based blocks against each other as they somehow kept each other in the middle of the sir.  Due to how placing a block on top of another just means that the top block move slightly in your inverted direction due to the friction between the two objects.

However, more than the rather neat idea of manipulating blocks against each other as the core combat, the game’s art style is likely its most distinct feature.  Everything is made of blocks, and could probably run effectively on an Atari 2600 if things were simplified a bit and there was another button.  Heck, it was originally a flash game from what I heard.  Yet there is actually a very firm amount of detail applied throughout the game with little blips in the background and characters squishing a bit as they jump, making the most of what looks like programmer art. While the the chiptune-ish score creates a very mellow atmosphere that effectively undermined any sense of dullness or annoyance I could have with the game.thomas-was-alone2

I’m all but certain that there is more to Thomas Was Alone than what I was able to pick out, but what I did manage to muster was far from bad at all.  It’s a well structured minimalistic puzzle platformer with an arguably lazy, but unique and pleasing visual style.  The biggest issue is how it never seems to truly open itself up or be very direct with what is going on, but apparently it does amazing work according to nearly everyone else, so I’ll just leave with a little clap for Mike Bithell.  *Clapa-Clapa-Clapa*

Good! (13/20)
A solid title that may be lacking in an infinite amount of different ways, or just a few big and difficult to ignore issues.  Varies based on the title, but still worth giving it a go overall!

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