Developer: Mike Bithell (PC version), Bossa Studios, Curve Studios (Ps3 & Vita port)
Release Date: July 24th, 2012 (PC), April 23rd, 2013 (Playstations)
Available on: PC, Playstation 3, Playstation Vita
Reviewer’s note: I played this game on the Playstation Vita. There may be differences between versions.
Characters are usually a big deal in video games, as they’ll be the focal point of the story. This holds up for many games, and that includes Thomas Was Alone. Despite using extremely minimalistic graphics, Thomas Was Alone makes a cast of characters you’ll actually care about and has some pleasant platforming to boot.
Thomas Was Alone puts you in the role of a group of 7 different quadrilaterals, each with their own unique abilities. Each shape also has its own personality that shines through from the game’s narration. Thomas is a curious individual who’s very happy observing and documenting everything he comes across, Chris is very cynical person who always has snarky comments, while Claire thinks she has super powers because of her ability to swim. It’s a fun cast of characters and they really shine thanks to some very witty and well done writing and narration. There is a background story for the game as well. Thomas and his friends are actually AIs that are attempting to reach a “well of knowledge”. There’s a little more to it than that, but unlike the personalities and thoughts that are narrated, it’s a little more hidden and implied rather than outright stated.
That said, not all is great with the story. Without spoiling anything, Thomas and his friend’s story wraps up around chapter 7, but the game decides to continue for two more chapters. While these last two chapters feature the best gameplay segments, something I’ll get to later, the story just gets lost in the process. A new group of characters is introduced, none of which feel anywhere near as lively or necessary as the original 7. Gray feels like a villain for the sake of suddenly having a villain, Paul’s actions feel pointless when you never really got to know him, and Team Jump can pretty much be removed from the story and not change it in anyway. For a game that started so strong it really is a shame that Thomas Was Alone’s story manages to end on such a weak note.
Thomas Was Alone is a puzzle platformer that requires you to arrange the shapes into their corresponding exits. As I mentioned before, each shape is unique and can do different things. Christopher can use his small size to enter hard to reach areas, James has everything inverted and upside down, and Sarah can double jump. Using these abilities you’ll be navigating your way through 90 different levels. You’ll soon get used to the most common things you’ll need to pull off. Expect to be giving a lot of characters boosts to help them over obstacles. While it can be fun and relaxing, the platforming is only really average at best.
Later in the game you’ll get control over a group of gray squares. These characters can enter special areas to shift their colors around and swap out their abilities. It leads to the best gameplay moments the game has to offer as you need to creatively figure out the best combination and way to go around swapping the characters. Sometimes you may have to grab the water-walking ability with one character, then the bounce pad ability with the other character. Then you have to help the bounce pad character across the water before using it to bounce up to a height you couldn’t get to. It’s clever and much better than the main game platforming.
Thomas Was Alone was a weird game. When the story is at its best the gameplay is just average. Once the story wanders off and stops being great the gameplay takes over and makes the game far better. It could have used some work, but those interested in how to successfully do narrative and story in a minimalistic video game should highly consider Thomas Was Alone.