By Tom Hooper aka Atomp
Upon purchasing the latest Humble Indie Bundle I realised that I now owned Thomas Was Alone on both PC and PSN, at which point I decided to get around to playing it and I was not disappointed. Thomas is an indie-puzzle platformer, but before you go and sulk in a corner over the over-abundance of such a genre this one is great, it oozes character and style. Whilst not long the game wastes not and the time is used to great effect producing consistent quality rather than attempting to pull-thin a limited amount of content.
The gameplay comprises of moving a selection of differently shaped rectangles, each with differing abilities around a level consisting of a variety of obstacles. This begins with basic jumping abilities and then introduces other elements such as floating or springing. These are then combined together in order to complete levels through a degree of coordination between the different rectangles. This gameplay concept initially seems somewhat clinical, especially considering that the playable characters are merely different shaped and coloured rectangles. The counter to this is the introduction of a storytelling device not often seen in games and probably last used to good effect in Bastion; the narrator. In this case the narrator is none other than Danny Wallace and the performance is outstanding. Wallace actually won a BAFTA for his work in Thomas and the award is well deserved. The seemingly clinical gameplay of moving rectangles is transformed by the well written and performed narrative which takes a Douglas Adams-esque role in describing the thoughts of the individual characters, as opposed to giving each their own voice. This works to great effect and develops very effective characters and group dynamics that also integrate with the differing level structures and thus gives the game an entirely new depth. It takes a simple, minimalist yet admittedly appealing style ,combines it with some clever puzzles and then superimposes the great story and characters on top.
The puzzles themselves consist of your normal variety of platformer obstacles; water, spikes, jumping big ol’ gaps and the like. In this sense the puzzles do not vary greatly from established norms, where they do begin to distiguish themsleves is where the character specific challenges appear with certain jumps relying on a certain character’s ability, or some gaps being far too small for the majority of available characters. The characters themselves can be switched between, with this being the fundamental mechanic around their usage. Initially this feels a bit tedious as each character must be herded across the level, however as the level complexity increases the precision afforded by individually handling the characters becomes more understandable and probably better than any form of semi-AI solution. Overall the gameplay is satisfying and the puzzles are reasonable whilst not excessively challenging, they probably would keep you coming back alone although it must be said that the draw remains the narrative.
The aesthetic of the game is clean and minimalist; consisting of clean lines, lots of right angles and pastel colours. In all it’s nice to look at but it’s the attention to detail and polish that finish the job, the animations for the jumping and movement of the rectangles give them that little bit of character and fluidity that makes them seem more alive than merely a static block of pixels. The water and death animations are appealing with just the right amount of particle effects in place, and the dynamic lighting and shadows look fantastic. It’s all these neat little touches that really make the game stand out from what is a market flooded with 2D platformers, almost exclusively the fact that it’s not attempting to be retro so it’s actually high resolution with clean lines and no pixelation.
The music is great and only adds to the atmosphere of the world and the character in the narrative. There’s a great combination of ambient undertones with electronic melody placed on top and the occasional piano element jumping in. The narration is certainly the star of the sound show, but much like the aesthetic the attention to detail in the sound effects further cements an already sound foundation. Once again the game has the Bastion effect of having great narration with great music, and yet again polish proves to be *the* deciding factor.
The game is currently in one of the best Humble Bundles to be released which will provide PC, Mac and Linux versions at whatever price you set (but don’t be a dick, pay a reasonable amount). This Bundle follows the normal Humble goodness with DRM-free availability, native ports on all platforms*, choose your price and Steam codes. The system requirements are not intense and you should be able to run it on any mid-range PC or probably a laptop. In addition to the Humble Bundle the game is still available from the Steam Store, Desura, IndieCity and directly from the website, but in short at this time you may as well go for the Humble Bundle. There’s also, and this is really nice to see, demos for Mac and PC. The place where the Humble Bundle won’t cut it is on the other platform the game released on; PSN. Here you’ll be looking at paying full price however one purchase will provide it for both Vita and PS3. (In addition it’s also part of the Playstation Plus instant library, so cool stuff if you decide to go for that).
*Sort of, a native port is still to appear, but not Thomas that’s done.
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