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Thomas Was Alone

Sat 12th April 2014

This game has been sitting in my Humble Indie Bundle library for about 9 months, and having completed OlliOlli and struggling with Guacamelee on hard mode, I was tempted to buy it for my PS Vita. However, I thought I’d try it on my Mac, having already paid for it, and see how I like it.

Well, the first half is pretty disappointing. The visuals are cute, with each character depicted as a rectangle of primary or secondary colour, against a black background with white levels. The game is made up of 10 (zero to nine) sets of 10 levels, and the first 50 all feel like they’re either training levels or introducing a new mechanic. The only challenge comes from having to move the characters to their goal (indicated by a white-outline rectangle of the same size and shape as the character) a much longer distance than necessary, though this requires more persistence than skill.

Screenshot 2014-03-30 21.01.56Adding to the frustration are a few oddities of the physics and collision detection, meaning that if you jump next to a moving block, you get attached and pushed along by it until it slows down (as if the moving block has coefficient of friction high enough to counteract gravity)! I also find the controls for switching between characters unintuitive, which means I occasionally move the wrong character to their death. Not much of a problem when there’s 3, but a bit annoying with 7.

Luckily, Thomas Was Alone does a very good job of not making death irritating. The character just respawns either at their starting point or at the most recent respawn point you have passed through. This is quick and automatic, which is important for fluid play.

I’m led to believe the point of Thomas Was Alone is the narrative. Again, while stylistically the narration is excellent (every level there a few lines of dialogue, which are delivered by Danny Wallace), I’ve found the story fragmented and not particularly entertaining.

Screenshot 2014-04-01 00.10.32The game picks up at the midway point, when James is introduced, with an interesting enough variation of the existing mechanics to make levels a little deeper. Finally there is a unique skill that requires some thought to solve the puzzles, and meaningfully depends on co-operation between the characters; at this point it almost feels as if this game could be multiplayer co-op. Scenario 5.10 is a beautiful example of this, though I fear is a one-off and too short-lived.

The second half does pick up a little, though it’s still only about half of its levels that present a challenge. The narrative also begins to make sense, and there’s a few more cultural references. There is also a level (7.2) where the goals are all moving, and at certain points through solving the level (which takes a little planning, but still isn’t hard), the beeping of rectangles meeting their goals makes a beautiful sort of bleepy music 🙂

At the end of the day it is rarely more than a Towers of Hanoi puzzle with secondary colour rectangles, with a slowly revealed simple story narrated by Danny Wallace. However, there are a few moments where Thomas Was Alone’s promise shines through, moments where co-operation between the different characters is crucial to solving the puzzle. It is for these few moments that it deserves recognition, it’s just a shame there isn’t just 25 great levels, instead of 5 brilliant ones and 95 fairly average ones.

From → Computer Games

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