Thomas wondered whether the portals were actually taking him anywhere. He felt like he was making progress but there wasn’t really any way to know. He seemed to be moving predominantly up and to the right, which might, or may not, be important.
There is no question that the platformer has been done to death. While far-off from its hay-day, the modern platformer is often a dime a dozen especially among the indie-developer crowd. While other games like Braid orTrine 2 focused on elaborate gameplay mechanics, Mike Bithell (working alongside with Bossa and Curve Studios) focused Thomas was Alone solely around humor and a well-written story to set it apart from the mediocre masses.
Tag-lined as “a minimalist game about friendship and jumping and floating and bouncing and anti-gravity”,Thomas was Alone truly lives up to its description. Thomas, the titled protagonist is a small, red, bouncing rectangle (pictured below). The other cast of characters surrounding Thomas can be described just as easily: Claire as the big, blue, floating square and Chris as the small, orange, cranky square. Yet, however bland and simple the character design was, I loved the characters.
Thomas was Alone elevates itself through the witty writing along with the serene narration of Danny Wallace (think Shaun—the snarky British computer nerd helping Desmond—from the Assassin’s Creed series). The story, taking place within a computer’s mainframe, shows a group of AIs becoming self-aware and trying to find their purpose in life. Wallace narrates the individual thoughts of the AIs, as the game pokes fun at itself, Internet culture, and platforming in general.
I like to think by now I am thoroughly jaded by the “indie-meta-self-aware” library of games I’ve amassed, butThomas was Alone had me smiling from ear-to-ear the entire way through.
Minimalism is the key here. Every aspect, from the menu screens to the levels, are succinct and simplistically crafted. While the game feels like it could have been done through flash animation there are a few flourishes here and there that make it sparkle like a diamond in the rust. The voice acting is expertly handled, and truly drew me into the game.
The sole gripe I have is that the pre-chapter quote, which was important to fleshing out the story, always disappeared far too quickly. While I nearly got the whole quote down, I would always be missing the last few words.
Just like in presentation, this gameplay itself is minimalist. It is a standard platformer, in that you want to get to the end portal by jumping from platform to platform.
Unlike games like Trine that will give characters a variety of ways to get through a level, Thomas was Alonegives you a variety of characters that are switched around easily. Every character has their own unique functions: the orange Chris jumps at a fraction of Thomas’s height, yet Claire can float. The green James is the anti-gravity Thomas while Team Jump stack on each other. The levels have a gentle learning curve and, though never stumping me, kept me constantly challenged.
Thomas was Alone’s 100 different levels will only take you a sitting or two to play through. However, for a $10 game (that has made multiple Humble Bundle and sales appearances) I never felt robbed.
The Verdict: 9 out of 10
The year has just started, and Thomas was Alone is already starting my New Year’s line-up strong. While minimalist on the surface, the heart and core of the game are beautifully crafted. As a love-letter to platforming, and a near perfect mobile game, this is one of my favorite indie games to date.