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Thomas Was Alone review

Solid
AT A GLANCE
  • Witty writing creates characterization from nothing
  • Puzzle platforming that’s challenging without being frustrating
  • Understated but magical soundtrack
  • It’s over just as it really hits its stride
  • Some may find it too easy

When given the right motivation, it’s easy to imagine a pile of polygons on a TV screen as an actual character. Indie title Thomas Was Alone takes that kind of projection to an experimental place, by asking players to identify with blank squares of basic color. Through a novel combination of puzzle-platformer gameplay and witty narration, the game makes you invested in the fate of a group of silent rectangles.

As the title would suggest, the game starts with Thomas all by himself. The small red rectangle is trapped within a defunct computer program, and he’s just starting to learn how to explore the 2D world in front of him, which gives him a feeling of nervous wonder. But how could you know what this blank red rectangle is feeling? The game imbues that empty vessel with a ton of personality, thanks to a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy-style British narrator.

"...your continually growing options keep the puzzles from getting too predictable."

The unidentified speaker’s droll descriptions of Thomas’ inner thoughts immediately add depth to the character. The writing creates the same connection when you meet Chris, Laura and the rest of Thomas’ angular new pals, and that understanding is further enhanced by an engaging and fittingly minimalistic soundtrack. By the campaign’s end, the collection of disparate shapes is more memorable than many of the realistic looking humans we meet in most games.

These cubes’ quest for answers and self-discovery starts like a simple platformer, as Thomas learns to hop from one end of the stage to another. Over the next 10 chapters, the game gradually introduces new partners for Thomas’ journey, each with their own unique skills. Some jump higher, some are short enough to squeeze through certain passages, and one helpful fellow can float in water. If the writing didn’t already differentiate the characters, their separate skills keep the standard platforming gameplay fresh.

"...the collection of disparate shapes is more memorable than many of the realistic looking humans we meet in most games."

A stage can only last a few minutes if you can think fast enough, but it isn’t complete until all characters reach their own exit, making Thomas Was Alone a single player co-op adventure to keep your party together. You're swapping between characters constantly to find the correct path out of a stage. Sometimes the solution is as simple as creating a stairway for the weaker jumpers of the group to climb up to the top of platforms, but others are a multistage process to get each team member in the right space across a huge area. And as your team is continually adding new members, your continually growing options keep the puzzles from getting too predictable.

The variety of abilities keeps you on your toes, but none of the stages are too daunting. The game introduces you to your new teammates at a natural pace, so you never feel like a solution is out of your grasp. Some of the final stages might seem like they'll twist your brain into knots, but as long as you remember all the tools at your disposal, the answer isn’t far away.

No one would mistake Thomas Was Alone for a AAA release, but don’t hold its relatively short length and abstract graphics against it. The game plays to its strength with clever puzzles and cleverer writing. Once you get to really know these mild-mannered cubes, you’ll want to follow their adventure all the way to the end.

This game was reviewed on the PS3.

More Info

Release date: Jul 24 2012 - PC
Apr 23 2013 - PS3, PS Vita
Jul 24 2012 - Mac (US)
Jul 24 2012 - PC
Apr 24 2013 - PS3, PS Vita
Jul 24 2012 - Mac (UK)
Available Platforms: PC, PS3, PS Vita, Mac
Genre: Puzzle
Published by: Curve Studios, Bossa Studios
Developed by: Independent
ESRB Rating:
Everyone: Mild Fantasy Violence, Mild Language

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11 comments

  • SDHoneymonster - August 23, 2013 9:31 a.m.

    Bought this earlier today, it was going for £2.79 in the PSN Summer Sale. I completed it in about 3 hours or so, but even if you're one of those who would complain about that being too short I can't recommend it highly enough. Engaging, intuitive and a lot of fun. Level design is brilliant; you're introduced to new mechanics throughout the game, they're never explicitly explained but they're elegantly woven in so that they feel natural straight away, and the puzzles are clever enough to make you feel a wee bit awesome after solving them but never too hard to have you stumped on one section for long periods of time. The narration, like Bastion, I feel is a bit of a gimmick, but also like Bastion, I don't really care; it adds a hell of a lot of character and warmth to what would otherwise just be a game about blocks.
  • Joedirt1105 - May 5, 2013 1:07 p.m.

    That still doesn't make it grammatically correct, jerkoff.
  • MyCoolWhiteLies - May 3, 2013 12:04 p.m.

    I played this game on PC earlier this year. I thoroughly enjoyed it. The mechanics are fairly simple, but the whole game is incredibly charming. The length felt perfect for me. I'm really starting to appreciate shorter, cheaper games that give me a full experience without wasting my time with unnecessary padding.
  • AtlanteanLancer - May 6, 2013 9:11 a.m.

    The gamers who started out on NES/SNES, i find, have less and less time to play long gaming sessions like when we were younger and playing morrowind now gamers appreciate a few hours of well wrapped and expertly designed content in between projects, studying or work. that's where short and easy charming games are aiming, usually they have a very minimalist presentation
  • ithurtstopoop - May 3, 2013 7:37 a.m.

    are the graphics better on PC or PS3?
  • winner2 - May 3, 2013 8:15 a.m.

    10/10 haha
  • Joedirt1105 - May 2, 2013 4:22 p.m.

    It's over too just as it's really hits its stride? Speak English.
  • broodax - May 5, 2013 1:03 p.m.

    hmm how to make it graspable to a redneck named joe dirt, as soon as the game got good the game ended or "aww crap...i got blue balls" or "at the climax of the story in the game, the ending was a suprise that it was here so soon"
  • mikeylawson - May 2, 2013 6:28 a.m.

    The unidentified narrator is Danny Wallace.
  • awesomesauce - May 1, 2013 8:27 p.m.

    Only 2 hates? WHAT IS THIS?!
  • slimjim441 - May 2, 2013 12:57 a.m.

    I agree. Only two points on 'You'll hate...' is kind of heretical.

Showing 1-11 of 11 comments

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