I have had Thomas Was Alone on my radar for a while. Looking on this site it looked like a platformer with easy achievements, low ratios, a short completion, and a decent rating from the community, the type of game that I look for in between playing longer retail games for a quick gamerscore boost. How wrong I was to think that was all I would be getting. Instead of a forgetful shameless boost I got an enchanting little game that reminds me why I play all and sundry. It’s these types of games that you can go into with little expectations and come out all warm and fuzzy, that you don’t often get, and definitely not from overhyped triple A titles.
I actually picked Thomas Was Alone up in a recent sale for £1.80, I’ll pretty much play anything for that price unless it’s a very long completion, even if it’s a genre I dislike. I am actually disappointed I paid that, because it feels unfair for me to have only given the developer and publisher, Curve Digital, that pittance. (However any future releases I will pretty much buy on sight).
The game then, is a pretty straightforward platformer with mainly simplistic puzzles. You control one or several different coloured rectangles, of which Thomas is one of them. Each of the rectangles has its own simple clichéd attribute, from a single jump, double jump, or can be bounced on, to one I won’t spoil, and each rectangular character has its own shape and size, from a thin tall one to a horizontal one. So by design, each character has its own strength and ergo its own weakness too. The characters, (I am reluctant to call them rectangles as they have their own personalities, seriously), are planted in an abstract matrix of colour and obstacles, (the levels), and usually have to work together to get to their own personal exit of the level. The horizontal one, Laura, for example doesn’t have much of a jump so you may need to stack others so she can climb obstacles. Or others may need to use her as a trampoline to reach higher points. Teamwork is key. And that is where the brilliant narration comes in, voiced by Danny Wallace, (the annoying Shaun if you remember from Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood onwards), but far from having a distasteful character in this game, voices all the characters in the third person brilliantly. What makes the narration special is that you are effectively listening to each character's thoughts, feelings, and self-talk, such as Laura’s worries that the others were ‘using her’ by bouncing on her, Chris’s hate towards Thomas, and Benjamin’s overconfidence. The thing is, this is how real life is, in fact it’s almost too real for a video game, rather than pretending everyone gets along all the time, the narration lets us hear each individual's foibles, fears, worries, and thoughts on each other, and therefore we get to know each character's personality, forcing us to like them or at least respect them, cheer for our favourites, and perhaps dislike the ones who maybe a bit too close to ourselves or people we dislike. Deep stuff for a bunch of polygons.
The personalising of the characters is backed up by the emotive music that matches the mood and story perfectly. (I’m not one to gush and dish out that sort of compliment lightly either). The music definitely strikes a chord for want of a better expression, and mirrors what’s going on indescribably well. What I also liked about the music is that I noticed in the sets of 10 levels, (x12 for 120 total levels), the music continued through the end of one level to the next thus keeping continuation. A good conscious choice, it also keeps you playing. I played through the game in 3 sittings and it's not a difficult game at all. There is a modicum of difficulty, it isn’t for children, but it is never pull-your-hair-out platforming. You may through trial and error have to restart a level, or a checkpoint, but it is geared so you make a mistake and by doing so you then know what to do, so it never gets overly difficult. Die hard platformers may want a more taxing challenge, but it would be folly to swerve this game due to, well any reason really, but it being easy is definitely one. I think it took a shade under 5 hours to complete. You can effectively skip the last 20 levels but why would anyone do that?! Most achievements are for finding the 2 collectibles ‘hidden’ in each set of 10 levels. And when I say hidden, they are never really hidden, just off the beaten track. I missed the odd one but found them all in the end through level select.
Overall when you realise Thomas Was Alone was basically made by one man, plus the narrator and composer, you can’t help but feel a little awed that in a World of big-budget gaming, a simple game of shifting a bunch of rectangles around a level can resonate with you so well. You take the narration, story, and music away you have nothing really, but everything fits together harmoniously and leaves you feeling a little happier about yourself, and the World in general. For what it is, which is an ID@Xbox game, it deserves no less than full marks.