Thomas Was Alone is a 2D puzzle platformer that was created by Mike Bithell. This is his first creation of note and it’s been met with critical and commercial success. The game tells the story of a red rectangle and his similarly quadrangular friends. It consists of 100 puzzles. Which is a decent amount, but I found myself wanting more of a challenge, especially during the first 50. In stark contrast to those are the last 10, in which I encountered a very steep difficulty spike. This isn’t a criticism, rather the opposite. The true criticism is that the majority of the game is disproportionately easy to its conclusion. It’s greatest strength however, is its story. It is technically very simply while at the same time remaining thematically deep and heartfelt.
You begin by playing the red rectangle Thomas, a newly created and self-aware AI living inside a computer. Thomas is observant by nature and upon recognizing his sentience, he wonders what it all means and why he’s alone. He ventures out into his virtual world to get answers and he meets several other AIs along the way.
The characters are all simply shaped and sized quadrilaterals that reflect their individual strengths and weaknesses. For example, John is tall and thin which allows him to jump higher. Conversely, Chris is very short. He’s neither able to jump high nor move quickly, but he can get into small places that others can’t. They have no arms, they don’t have legs, nor are there any faces to speak of. However, they’re all personified with unique quirks and personalities. A great example of this is Claire who struggles finding self-worth because she’s awkwardly large. This sounds sad but fear not, everyone has something to be proud of, even Claire.
A testament to the strength of the writing and message of the game is that I very quickly began to think of Thomas and his companions as actual characters rather than blocks. I had heard people talk about these shapes as if they were people for months and I didn’t think I’d view them in the same light. But by the third level it had already happened. Throughout my entire play through I remembered the names of each of the dozen playable characters. I also remembered their outlooks on the world as well as their opinions of each other and themselves.
Another thing of note is the minimalist art style and the wistful aesthetic. It lends itself well to the way the characters are portrayed as feeling. The dim backgrounds allowed me to appreciate the game’s use of lighting and shadow. It creates a tone that is equal parts melancholy and whimsy. The controls feel tight and responsive whether using a mouse and keyboard or gamepad. I played this on PC, but I feel like it would be a great title to play on Vita or other mobile devices. The game is currently out on most platforms excluding the Xbox 360. However, on the 25th of this month it will be released on the Xbox One, PS4, and Wii U.
The game is very well polished and I feel like Mike Bithell accomplished what he wanted to. But, for the sake of nitpicking I’ll reiterate that I feel like the game has a small pacing issue. There’s some seemingly random ebb and flow in difficulty with a huge spike thrown in around level 50. Also, in the first 20 levels you might notice that you’ve completed a puzzle before the narrator is finished telling you the story. It’s not a big problem, just know that if you walk through the portal to move on the narrator will be cut off mid sentence. The game also contains collectibles. These are small dark shapes that hover inconspicuously in corners and above water. I made it a point to pick them up when I noticed them but I never felt like I wanted to search for any. On Steam you’re awarded achievements for finding them.
In my four hours with Thomas Was Alone I discovered a game with a lot of heart. It’s an easy game that’s enjoyable mostly due to its storytelling. The surprisingly developed story arc and relatable character development is at the heart of this indie title’s success. At $10 I definitely recommend it. If only to say you’ve experienced it. Adults will enjoy it, but better still, young children will too. The characters’ feelings and how they cope with them might even be more widely relevant to a younger audience. Before playing this game I’d never heard of Mike Bithell, but I’m already looking forward to his next project.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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