Since Super Meat Boy captured the platforming audience, it seems that many games in the genre go down a masochistic road, demanding perfecting and offering death swiftly and often. I get it, it’s a mechanic that keeps you coming back, trying to better yourself every time you restart the level.
Thomas was Alone is not that kind of game.
Narrated by British comedian Danny Wallace, players embark on an epic journey inside a computer mainframe. A number of artificial intelligences have malfunctioned, developing their own personalities and unique traits, and as players, we must guide them to safety. Sounds interesting right? What if I told you that each character is a solid shape of colour, they don't speak for the entire duration of the adventure, and the game is literally jumping from point A to point B?
Not so interesting now, is it?
Thomas was Alone relies heavily on emotion, so much so that it does it almost better than any other game on the market. These faceless blocks illicit true feelings from me, all based on the terrific writing and narration from Mike Bithell's mind. It's an excellent example that you don't need perfectly motion-captured humans to deliver a heartfelt story with real emotion, and for that Thomas was Alone should be applauded.
But what about the gameplay?
Players take control of these blocks and rectangles, each with a speciifc trait that will force them to rely on one another to reach their destinations. For example, Chris is a small, orange rectangle who can't jump very high, while Claire is a superhero square that can float in water but can't fit into the small places that the others can. While they may only be blocks, the character is injected into them thanks to the story is what makes the game work so well.
The actual platforming itself can be a little touch and go, however. Some levels feel like a perfectly laid out puzzle that will truly test your understanding of each character and how to use them. Others feel like it's just a room with an objective, and there's no real driving force behind the design. By the time you're at the end of this short adventure, you're simply playing for the storyline, not the gameplay.
A big problem I found with the game was the speed of narration. Quite often in the early levels, I found myself standing right in front of the goal, waiting for the narration to finish so I soaked in every morsel of story before completion. It just feels a little constrictive at times, especially when you need to stop making those tight jumps because you're too distracted by the narration that is going on.
The art style, minimalistic as it is, actually works extremely well given the focus on the story here. The shadow backgrounds are a stark departure from the solid colours of Thomas and his ragtag gang of friends. The real shining aspect of the presentation is the soundtrack however, which is uplifting in the best kind of way possible. I’d put it right up there as one of my top five gaming soundtracks of all time.
Thomas was Alone has been out for a while now; the PC version dropped on Steam last year, but most recently the game arrived on the PS Vita and PlayStation 3. Both versions look and play the same, but the PlayStation treatment gets a few bonus levels that PC gamers miss out on. It also supports cross-buy and cross-save functionality, so you can start on your console and keep playing on your portable with ease. I would almost go as far as saying that the portable version is the best, considering the short-burst nature of the level design, making it perfect for those on the morning commute.
THE FINAL VERDICT
Thomas was Alone is an emotional rollercoaster that will make you laugh, cry, and smile all in one sitting. Despite being faceless and voiceless blocks of colour, Thomas and his friends have more personality than most characters in AAA productions. The gameplay element is light, but if you want an emotionally rewarding story, this is definitely worth your time.