Thomas Was Alone is a freshly released indie puzzle platformer for the PC that is credited as ‘a minimalist game about friendship and jumping’ and follows the story of a simple red jumping quadrangle called Thomas. The game revolves around the story of the worlds first self aware artificial intelligence and their travels through minimalist areas avoiding toxic water, spikes and pixel clouds along the way.
The game is a puzzle platformer and you will often have a number of rectangles and squares on the screen at once, with a clear goal at the end. The puzzle element comes with certain shapes having different abilities, for example one shape, Christopher, can’t jump very high at all, so you have to position the taller Thomas at the base of a platform and use him as a step.
The game itself provides a very simple aesthetic done spectacularly well. The block characters and the solid black platforms work brilliantly together slightly juxtaposed against the details of the background, pixel clouds and toxic. This minimalist design is something that makes this game play so well, and pulls it away from any preconceptions that this is a glorified flash game.
The music is an almost painfully relaxing affair. Chilled piano medleys makes this game one of those great examples of titles you can just lose yourself in. I found myself just sitting and playing the game for an hour at a time without even noticing the minutes pass. The one issue I have with the audio is an abrupt sound effect to symbolise one of the shapes meeting their goal or jumping. The effect is something you’d expect from the Atari 2600 and when you have the volume on high to enjoy the music, it can be quite jarring.
One of the reasons Thomas Was Alone entered a number of peoples consciousness was because of the narrator, Danny Wallace. For most people Danny Wallace is known due to his XFM radio show or voicing Shaun Hastings in Assassin’s Creed and with the style of Thomas Was Alone, it’s hard not to see why Danny Wallace was a great choice.
His voice is best compared to that of Stephen Fry’s in Little Big Planet as he is able to give emotion to the words and the characters without being overly dramatic or cheesy. His voice blends easily with the music and compliments the simplicity of the whole game’s design.
Obviously a great voice isn’t worth much without a great script, and quite simply, this is the game’s greatest strength. Mike Bithell, the game’s creator, has produced more emotion and empathy for these blocks than a lifetime of watching Eastenders could ever conjure. These basic shapes without faces on the screen are capable of being loved or hated by the player purely based on the narration of Danny Wallace and the incredible writing.
Learning the different motivations for the characters is a joy, be it Thomas feeling lonely, Laura being afraid that the others will only be using her to bounce off and not really liking her, or my favourite Claire, the only block that can float and as such believes she is a superhero. All of these traits and abilities lead you to pick favourites and never in my life did I think I would have a favourite square or rectangle.
The game’s puzzles are easy and hard at the same time, getting your head around the physics of a square is a learning curve. The only area that the game fell down for me is certain puzzles requiring a rinse repeat fashion for a number of shapes. At this stage the puzzles aren’t challenging but more time consuming which is not as fun. Thankfully the game doesn’t resort to this too often and generally you can sit and ponder for a minute on how to successfully achieve the level’s goal.
Thomas Was Alone is definitely worth picking up by any gamer as it’s enjoyment is universal over age and genre preference. The story is a pleasure to experience and even if you are playing on your own in a room, giving this game the opportunity to shine through a decent set of headphones will draw you in and envelope your aural and visual senses with minimalist pleasure.
This game should be held in the same light as Braid, VVVVVV and Limbo. Hopefully it will hit the mainstream with a triumphant force and the greater masses will give Thomas Was Alone the true recognition that it deserves.
+ Magnificent minimalist art style that sets the game apart
+ Simple game design and controls that are easy to pick up and play
- Rinse and repeat puzzles are a drag
+ Spellbinding music and narration
- Occasional sound effect can be jarring
You can download the demo or buy Thomas Was Alone for PC and Mac on the official website.