Originally created by one man – the marvelously talented Mike Bithell – Thomas Was Alone has come a long, long way. After its well-earned ascension to flash-game stardom, Bithell’s platformer would go on to become available on Steam, and is soon to be available on the PlayStation Network.
With its simplistic gameplay and 2D viewpoint, Thomas Was Alone has all the markings of a game doomed to be drowned out by the system’s ever-growing catalogue of blockbuster titles.
However, within the first few minutes of playing something just… clicks, reminding you that gaming isn’t just about flashy set-pieces or flailing your arms in front of a television. This moment of diversion -of enlightened surprise- spirals into an adventure that is not only fun but impossibly emotional.
Quotes in this video were made in relation to the PC version last year.
Donning the form of a traditional platformer, Thomas Was Alone tasks players with navigating a selection of blocks in order to proceed to the next stage. These blocks come in a number of varieties, each with their own attributes such as the ability to double jump, float on water or even reverse gravity. In concept alone its a solid game, but that’s not what sets it apart.
Instead of treating the game’s pool of rudimentary polygons as what they physically are, Mike Bithell has done something small yet amazing. In giving each shape its own name and personality, the ingenious indie has somehow created a cast of grounded, believable characters, brought to life by the narration of comedian, Danny Wallace.
What’s more is that the personal development of these characters and their relationships are metaphors used to reflect the game’s mechanics. Laura, for instance, is a horizontal rectangle who (yes, I said who) can be jumped on to access higher platforms. It’s a mechanic we’ve seen dozens of times but in Thomas Was Alone it is translated as the internal hardship of a downtrodden woman trying to find comfort in helping her friends reach greater heights.
It’s really clever stuff and, when combined with witty pop-culture references and David Housden’s BAFTA-nominated score, creates an endearing tale that helps to carry the game along. To think that it all starts with one red rectangle and a simple press of the “X” is just amazing.
The gameplay itself holds up just as well as the story it helped to inspire. Controls are tight and responsive, complemented by pitch perfect level design which never borders on monotony or frustration. This is further enhanced by the game’s even pacing, filtering in complex levels while occasionally presenting players with stages that can be tackled at a leisurely pace. Better still, there is no single method to reaching a portal, the game often enabling you to reach the end goal using a variety of character combinations.
Due to its minimalist design influences and identical control scheme, there is no real difference between the PlayStation 3 and Vita versions of Thomas Was Alone. Unlocked simultaneously through Sony’s “Cross-Buy” system, both include the same content as well as Mike Bithell’s commentary which can be toggled on or off during gameplay. Even for those who don’t usually enjoy developer commentaries, it proves insightful and is well worth a listen.
- Incredibly emotive for something so ostensibly simplistic.
- Mechanically clever, belies its appearance.
- Great soundtrack and voice over.
- Cloud syncing between PS3 and VITA versions is seamless.
- Full creator commentary.
- It’s never more than mildly challenging.
- Perhaps a little short.
When the curtain finally closed on Thomas Was Alone, I couldn’t help but feel touched. Despite being two-dimensional in appearance, the game’s cast of characters exuded more personality and depth than that of some games propped up by millions of dollars of development funding. I’m not usually the kind to buy into such alternate approaches to game design often exercised by indies but something about Thomas Was Alone really struck a chord with me. Aside from being taken aback by the game I am also grateful that Sony has put the effort into building relationships with creators such as Mike Bithell to bring gamers these unforgettable experiences.