Indie Games, where the heart and soul is!

Thomas Was Alone (Review)


Review by: Ady Carter
Created by Mike Bithell, Thomas Was Alone bills itself as “a minimalist game about friendship and jumping” which to be frank is pretty much exactly what it is. Spinning out of a successful flash-based demo and with a little bit of crowd funding support to polish it up, Thomas Was Alone arrives this weekend for the PC and Mac. It’s a tough game to accurately describe, and one that’s perhaps best discovered rather than laid out before you in a review, but this is a review and you expect as much, so I should try!

You start out in control of Thomas, a slightly over enthusiastic AI in the form of a rectangle with a childlike love for “inverted falling.”  Upon creation he sets out to explore his surroundings and chronicle his discoveries. While doing so he encounters a range of other shapes, each with their own personality and abilities; ranging from jumping so fantastically that it causes Thomas to applaud, through to a frankly amazing super power which I just don’t have the heart to spoil for you.

You’re tasked with guiding Thomas and his friends to their corresponding portals within each level. These can only be reached by the various quadrilaterals working together in their quest, drawing on the strengths of each one in order to reach their goals. Chris for example can barely jump yet is small enough to get down corridors that his associates cannot.  They can of course return this favour by enabling him to use them as stepping-stones to negate his inability to jump very high, not that his short man syndrome enables him to be particularly grateful for the assistance.

As your quest progresses and you end up with a motley selection of quadrilaterals (not all of whom are present on each level – sneaky portals!), you’ll find yourself beginning to instinctively know how to overcome each obstacle as you find them and you’ll eerily just know if your four-sided friend can make a jump before you try. The difficulty curve is pretty much spot on, you never find yourself feeling out of your depth and whenever you start to become a little bored of the puzzles you bump into someone new and everything is fresh once more. It wouldn’t surprise me if the cast of this game eventually grow to become a franchise themselves; each one has a uniquely crafted personality and is amazingly full of life, perhaps even reminding you of someone you know.  I am quite clearly Chris and just might have to go buy a T-Shirt with him on.

The story is presented to you in the form of captions representing the inner thoughts of the shapes.  These are also fantastically narrated by Danny Wallace channelling his best Wheatley homage crossed with a Jackanory presenter. The plot and inner monologues of the characters is enough to drive you onwards – you simply can’t leave Thomas, or any of them, alone; you feel compelled to keep going. In addition to the superb narration, the music that accompanies the game couldn’t be a better fit – a hybrid of piano and 8 bit pixel music, its provides a haunting melodic accompaniment to your adventures. (It’s so nice in fact, I’ve had it playing in the background while typing this up)

Visually the game isn’t going to have the 32xAA, Triple Buffering crowd worshipping it, but its simplicity is, um, simple to the point of perfection. Everything looks and feels absolutely perfect and little touches such as the way the shapes interact with the background lighting serve to only enhance its perfection. The controls within the game (sadly keyboard only) are equally pixel perfect. There is no inertia to interfere with your movements and jumps. Everyone goes exactly where you want them to.

My mind can’t help drawing connections to EDGE (which people who know me know I love, a lot), less so for the fact both games feature squares but more so because both games tick so many of my boxes in the same way; they both feature perfect visuals, music and gameplay, with Thomas Was Alone perhaps even edging EDGE out for my top spot due to its humour and storyline. Like Portal, like Bastion, like Fez, this to me is one of those games that I honestly feel everyone should own. Years from now when people look back at the truly great games to come out of this decade I feel that Thomas Was Alone will be long remembered as one of them. The only real negative thing I can say about the game is that I wish it was available on a few more platforms; I’d be overjoyed to see an Android/iOS version in the future, and to be fair, me wanting to be able to play a game more isn’t really a negative (Unless you happen to be married to me).

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