Published on July 28th, 2014 | by JC Richardson0
thomas was alone Review
Indie guru Mike Bithell has brought the ungrammatically titled ‘thomas was alone’ to Android. It’s an ultra-minimal platform puzzler, and he’s brought along Danny Wallace of Yes Man fame to narrate it.
TWA It has all the usual jumps, moving platforms and water hazards you’d expect from the genre, but the game world is rendered with an Über-cool stylistic eye and the subtle movement of shadow as you move around really is lovely. You start as a block called Thomas, stuck in a world you don’t understand. You don’t know why you’re there, but you quickly learn that you can fall, jump and move around – and it’s not long before you discover you’re not alone. There are other blocks, like Claire, who’s rubbish at jumping but happy in water. Or there’s Chris who can get through small gaps. As the player, you have to swap between these characters and use their various abilities to get each one to their respective exit.
Slowly, a story emerges as you play: email excerpts from staff at an AI lab mention an ‘emergence event’, and Danny Wallace narrates the gentle discourse between these blocky entities as they are forced to co-operate to progress.
This is all well and good, but what’s the actual gameplay like? It’s a bit weak, to be honest. Getting around the hazards naturally involves a lot of swapping between characters, and it soon starts to feel a bit laborious. This is especially acute when a finger-slip sends one of the blocks hurtling to its doom, causing it to respawn at the last ‘continue’ point, but leaving the rest of your characters way ahead. You’re forced to double back and rescue the fallen block just to get back to where you first slipped – so what was the point of the respawn point? The levels are only short, so you’ll find yourself just restarting them. Also, the controls lack the sensitivity needed for intricate platforming so this will happen a lot.
Another problem is that the characters just aren’t that interesting, unfortunately. Danny Wallace’s able narration is a neat feature, but really doesn’t add much to the game – at least Stephen Merchant raised some laughs and delivered the tutorial in Portal 2. The dialogue here didn’t hold my interest, although Claire is entertaining enough with her superhero delusions. Except, how can a new-born AI know about superheroes, but not about video games? I guess it’s best not to think too hard about it.
Summary: Thomas was alone is a platform game with pretentions, but the character-swapping gimmick quickly becomes a chore. Combine this with a flawed control scheme and the result is more an ‘interesting project’ than an actual great game.