Thomas Was Alone is a marriage of puzzle game and soap opera from the mind of Mike Bithell. Narrated by Danny Wallace, the game manages to make you care about your little four-sided protagonists despite them being nothing more than abstract shapes. I was lucky enough to snaffle the game from the mitts of our dear leader and site namesake – and what a game it is!
The first chapter begins by introducing us to Thomas, a recently sentient piece of artificial intelligence. The player is guided through some basic levels to familiarise themselves with controlling Thomas and his jumping skill. As progress is made more friends join Thomas on his adventure, each with a skill of their own.Claire the blue square can be used to safely transport her fellow quadrilaterals across bodies of water. Laura the pink rectangle can be used as a trampoline to help her friends reach areas they could not otherwise and a whole host of other characters bring unique skills of their own. Despite the characters all having different personality traits to one-another most of them are likeable. The goal in each level is to make it to the appropriately sized portal. Once everyone is in place they are transported to the next level. Over the course of the games’ one hundred levels the player is treated to all of the characters’ thoughts and feelings, narrated by Danny Wallace.
It’s a testament to Danny Wallace’ voice talent that he can breathe life into otherwise uninteresting protagonists. Be it Chris’ undying love for Laura, or James’ paranoia about being left alone, Wallace engages the player with each of the characters to a point where they are no longer thought of as just shapes. Without his narration the game would be good but it would be nowhere near as memorable. Like a good book the characters and their stories will keep you hooked throughout the duration of the game.
Each new character brings with them a new way to solve puzzles and this enriches the experience and allows the player to think outside the box. During the short run time you will utilise Sarahs’ double jump for hard to get to areas, use Claire as a boat to transport friends across water, Laura as a trampoline and Chris to get into small areas others can’t. There is a variety of gameplay mechanics to play with. Bithell does not overuse them however and each character is in the spotlight for only a few levels. This is sometimes a mixed blessing. I found myself wanting more levels where I was transporting the others across water and dodging obstacles on the way. However levels that centred around Laura and insisted upon using characters in a certain order were not my cup of tea and I was glad they were over quickly.
Visually, Thomas Was Alone is very stripped back. There is little in the way of fancy graphical effects; a simple colour palette, some basic shapes, shadows and small flourishes here and there are all that is present – this is both a design choice and a necessity. Like the visuals, the soundtrack is equally as minimalist. David Housden provides a wonderful piano-chiptune hybrid that relates the feeling of solitude Thomas and his friends feel as they try to make their way towards the internet.
Thomas Was Alone is not a game to be taken at face value. Beneath its simplistic visuals lays a memorable cast of characters, a deep, funny and sometimes moving narrative and some wonderfully fiendish jumping-based puzzles. At under six pounds there is a reasonable amount of content. There may not be much in the way of re-playability, however the journey Tom and his friends take you on, the wonderful narration and David Housdens stellar soundtrack more than justify the asking price.