A sure sign that a game is good: sitting down to play it and not stopping until you’ve beaten it.
I woke up this morning to the news that Thomas Was Alone had been released and promptly forked over $10 for it. It had been on my radar for a couple of months due to the rave reviews it’s been getting, but it was IndieGames’ description of it as “the Portal 2 of the indie world” that sold me. I proceeded to fork over the rest of my Saturday as well, because I soon learned this game is highly addictive.
Designed and developed by Mike Bithell, Thomas Was Alone is an indie puzzle/platformer with minimalist graphics but a brilliant, well-developed narrative. You begin the game as Thomas, a simple red rectangle, and you are indeed all alone as the British narrator (voiced by Danny Wallace) guides you through the game’s beginning levels that acquaint you with some of the controls and obstacles you’ll encounter throughout the game’s 100 levels.
As you move through the levels, you’re introduced to other characters who are also quadrangles with distinctive personalities, each one with a unique ability–often one that appears to be a limitation at first. For example, there’s Claire, a rather depressing large blue square who laments that she can’t jump very high, only to later find out she can float in the poisonous water that would otherwise kill Thomas and his acquaintances. This makes Claire feel like a superhero and gives her a renewed sense of purpose as she’s excited to show off her abilities and come to her friends’ rescue–just one example of how the game breathes life into its characters. Yes, this game made me empathize with colored shapes!
Thomas gets by with a little help from his friends.
Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if Thomas was inspired, at least in some small part, by the classic cartoon The Dot and the Line which kept popping into my head as I was playing through, and I couldn’t help but draw comparisons between the narration styles. The characters in Thomas Was Alone also grapple with feelings of loneliness, insecurity, romance, and the desire to find their place in the artificially-rendered world in which they find themselves.
Let’s talk about the audio for a minute, because it’s fantastic. In fact, the first thing I noticed was the game’s gorgeous music, which was composed by David Housden. Retro gaming fans will also appreciate the Atari-esque sound effects when you jump and complete goals; it makes for an interesting fusion of old and new.
Movement is simple: arrow keys to move, space bar or the “up” arrow to jump. You must also use Tab (or the Q key) to switch between characters for most levels where you’ll be required to make them work together to solve puzzles. Standing on the extreme edge of things is going to be your bread & butter maneuver in most cases, using the flat surfaces of the shapes to your advantage. At times I found myself really wishing I was using a controller, as some of the jumps are pretty difficult to land and there are obstacles like moving platforms and spiked barricades to contend with that require precise timing. But by around the twentieth level or so I was more than comfortable with the keyboard.
Level 5.0 is where the anti-gravity kicks in and things start to get a lot more challenging; I felt like a genius when I finally figured out the twist in level 5.6. Though there are 100 levels, some of them are much easier than others and you’ll most likely breeze right through. Overall, the game presents a good mix of difficult and easy puzzles, some of which seem to exist to further the story along. On the other hand, there were levels that had me completely stumped for 30 minutes or more. In total, I think I spent a good 5 -6 hours on the game, with the exception of a few breaks.
There isn’t much negative I can say about the game, other than the few small glitches I encountered where my character got stuck to the side of a platform. In one case it was actually helpful to get past an obstacle, but I’m pretty sure that’s not how I was meant to do it. I also felt the ending was a little lacking, but still satisfying.
8 out of 10 stars.