PN Review: Thomas Was Alone
Thomas Was Alone is a puzzle platformer that’s as much an experience as it is a game. With so many elements coming together in such splendid ways, it is greater than the sum of its parts. The positive impression it’s left with me is very strong! Please read on to see why that’s so …
The game centers on cooperation, a theme that’s emphasized both in the gameplay and in the narrative. Swapping between various self-aware squares and rectangles, you’ll use their unique characteristics to reach the individual level exits in a virtual world. The gameplay’s fun, though not groundbreaking. What elevates it in ways I wouldn’t have imagined is the amount of personality injected into each of these basic shapes. Every level has accompanying narration from Danny Wallace, and it’s such an enhancement I’m hard pressed to imagine the game without it! He manages to make us care about these little shapes and their relationships with one another, adding complex yet heartwarming layers of story in a genre that rarely has it.
Starting with the title character Thomas, you’ll in time be introduced to no less than 15 others. Some seem considerably more developed, but each brings a new mechanic to the adventure. Early on Thomas is joined by such unique characters as Claire, a large blue block with the ability to float on water, and John, a tall yellow rectangle with strong leaping abilities. As more join, the unique combos allow for interesting approaches when tackling puzzles, while adding further layers to the story development.
Visually this is a minimalist game, reflected in both its shapes and color schemes. It does have several little touches however. Whether it’s the slight way the characters expand and compress when jumping, subtle background animations, or how certain levels are angled, it’s clear some effort was made to spruce up the otherwise plain looking game. No doubt more could’ve been done while staying true to the themes, but it suffices. It also makes it that much easier to play on the GamePad, as the TV is pretty much unnecessary – HD does no favor to these simplistic graphics, and some of the text is hard to read.
The shining star amongst the audio is of course the narration. It sounds great heard over the stylized soundtrack from composer David Housden. The tunes change every ten levels, so none wear out their welcome. You can adjust the volume for narration, music, and sound effects. The latter are the weakest element of the audio package, akin to something yanked from a 2600 cart. They also suffer from weird fluctuations at times. One most excellent inclusion is optional commentary like you might find when watching a movie on Blu-ray or DVD. I definitely want to replay the adventure again in full so I can listen to it all!
The game controls with either the GamePad or Pro Controller. Moving about, and jumping and swapping between characters is simple. You can also (on most levels anyway) scan with the right control stick to get a layout overview. Do be careful when attempting running jumps though, as the game is quite particular on how far off the platforms you can be to do so successfully. I feel the responsiveness here could be tightened up some. Thankfully there was really only a single instance (one of the few levels where time factored) in which I felt performance was hindered.
You can replay any beaten level in each completed scenario. Leaderboards are included as well, giving replay incentive (along with the aforementioned commentary) for what’s otherwise not a markedly long game. Even so, with 120 levels (including the additional content) it still manages to feel quite full, without overstaying its welcome. This isn’t a particularly difficult game either, and ample checkpoints ensure everyone should be able to see it through to completion.
Thomas Was Alone is an absolutely fantastic title! It’s most definitely a must own, yet not necessarily on the Wii U. Admittedly it shouldn’t be hard to find this game for sale on other consoles or elsewhere for a quarter of the price. This Wii U port has nothing particularly unique, besides standard feature like Miiverse and Off-TV Play. Nevertheless, I can’t say enough good things about this adventure and the impact it’s made on me. A clever puzzler, wrapped in a touching tale, with a nice musical score, and brilliant narration! Thomas Was Alone is an indelible experience in the best way possible, and I congratulate Mike Bithell and Curve Studios for bringing this wonderful title to the Wii U!