It is immediately clear that Thomas Was Alone is an indie game from the moment you boot it up. I mean, come on, short of Super Hexagon, who makes their ‘characters’ moving shapes? Regardless, it’s this indie charm that ultimately manages to pull you into the game no matter how tentative you may be about playing it initially. A la Terry Cavanagh fashion, it’s mainly the writing of the game, or what little direction it may give, that really makes this work. Even the simplest mechanics are memorable when you have a semi-talented writer to back them up. Thomas Was Alone wouldn’t be a memorable platforming game if it weren’t for it’s sound effects, artistic visuals, and minimalistic representation however.
The game was successful and/or popular enough to warrant a transition to both the PS3 and Vita, which should be releasing here in a little under a week’s time thanks to Sony’s partnership with independent developers worldwide. Mike Bithell is the talented soul behind the game, and thanks to several other people, such as a narrator and others, the little gem shines brightly. The story is interestingly about the development of the first artificial intelligence in the world, self-aware AI anyway, and consists of some unique monologues held by the cast of rectangular quadrilateral and colored objects taking center stage in this minimalistic adventure.
Thomas, a red little square, is the main character so to speak, and from the outset you gradually gain more rectangular companions to aid you in your adventure, each with a special ability of their own. Some act as trampolines while others can float on liquids and water, and still others can create stairsteps to bridge gaps. Combining these basics of experimentation together, you get a pleasant challenge as the levels fly by, and a fairly complex platformer/puzzler with the routine goal being to successfully get each of your shape-friends into the end of level portal in order to proceed. One of the more amusing aspects of this is each quadrilateral’s ‘conscious’ or reaction to events occurring around their newfound intelligent being. One can only hope that the game holds up just as well once it makes its way to Sony’s platforms- console, and handheld. I would hope the HD makeover does it justice.
The game’s mechanics themselves are not too terribly hard to get the hang of, but gradually, as you progress ever so slightly, more mechanics are offered up and add to the difficulty factor just a bit- forcing you to juggle multiple tasks and ‘people’ at one time. Perception filtering, gravity switches, and color changing paints and properties are just the beginning. Sure, the game is relatively short- but then again, so was Portal, and it’s hard to keep the brain actively engaged in a puzzle for more than a few hours anyway without things growing stale, so the time limit is right at about where it should be. The amounts of amusing comments and novel moments in such a short game would rival those in significantly longer ones, and with it coming from simple objects, it’s all the more appreciated. Sure, it encounters tedium at points, with precision and accuracy that might make you throw a mouse or flip the bird, but the overall pacing is spot on. Towards the end, your curiosity is further aroused, and you’ll like where things inevitably end up.
As beautifully minimalistic as the gameplay and design itself is, just wait until you hear the soundtrack that accompanies it. The spacy chiptune and piano score is superb, and definitely one of the game’s highlights if I do say so myself. There is honestly nothing simplistic about this game, looks aside, or even indie development aside- it is actually a complex sojourn that should grab your attention and force you to try to wrap your mind around every step of the way. The score only serves to instill the need to do just that even more so.
Unlike most “big-time” titles developed by large teams, Thomas Was Alone never really overuses just one mechanic or overjustifies one motive or design idea. Instead, each level is slightly different, instead of playing through fifteen similar ones in a row, as many developers would have forced you to do in a game $50 more expensive and several repetitive hours longer. The $9.00 price tag for this high quality, low income game is well worth it, and you’ll soon see exactly why. It may all seem to be “friendship and happiness and rainbows and sparkles”, but unlike My Little Pony, Thomas Was Alone exudes a deeper meaning, which can be interpreted many different ways, and also a flamboyant confidence of sorts via reverse psychology in its chosen minimalistic design. The upbeat design of co-op, the dear rectangles, and the wit make this a trip worth taking most definitely.
Concept: Create an endearing yet simplistic and somehow complex adventure.
Graphics: With the minimalistic design captured, the graphics are perfectly acceptable, with no issues whatsoever.
Sound: The soundtrack is awesome.
Playability: The jumping feels sweet, and the puzzle mechanics are well worth your effort and time.
Entertainment: The witty and almost satirical story is neat, and the monologues are subjective and amusing.
Replay Value: Moderate
Overall Score: 8.75