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Thomas Was Alone Review (PSN, PS3, Vita)

Jim was impressed.

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.

What’s Good:

  • 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.

What’s Bad:

  • 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.

Score: 9/10

  1. Taylor Made
    Since: Oct 2011

    This looks like the impossible game from the video but not complaining.

    Good review, shall be picking it up, didn’t get to read all of the review as am about to drive but does it have trophies?

    Comment posted on 22/04/2013 at 10:08.
    • Jim Hargreaves
      Since: Nov 2009

      Yup. A decent spread but mostly collectible ones. Definitely gives you more incentive to replay levels.

      Comment posted on 22/04/2013 at 10:10.
    • skibadee
      Since: Oct 2009
      Comment posted on 22/04/2013 at 10:14.
      • Taylor Made
        Since: Oct 2011

        Thanks guys

        Comment posted on 22/04/2013 at 11:37.
      • CR8ZYH0RSE
        Since: Sep 2012

        Nice one Skibs,reliable as ever.8)

        Comment posted on 22/04/2013 at 14:13.
  2. Youles
    Since: Feb 2011

    Nice review. Can’t wait – day one purchase for me!

    Comment posted on 22/04/2013 at 10:13.
  3. DividSmythe
    Since: May 2012

    Free on Ps+ so its definite day 1 purchase.

    Comment posted on 22/04/2013 at 10:17.
  4. Tuffcub
    On the naughty step.
    Since: Dec 2008

    Now it’s on Vita you can play with Thomas anywhere. Ever in the park, in front of people.

    Comment posted on 22/04/2013 at 10:23.
    • teflon
      Community Team
      Since: May 2009

      You’re talking about your willy, aren’t you?

      Comment posted on 22/04/2013 at 13:18.
      • Forrest_01
        Since: Jun 2009

        Why does he have his willy on his Vita? That’s not how the touchscreen is supposed to be used! ;)

        Comment posted on 22/04/2013 at 16:48.
  5. TSBonyman
    Since: Dec 2009

    Good review and looking forward to playing it myself. If it wasn’t going to be free on plus i would buy it.

    Comment posted on 22/04/2013 at 10:43.
  6. Broonba
    Since: Mar 2009

    Since it’s free on plus I’ll be picking this up. Looks like an interesting wee game.

    Comment posted on 22/04/2013 at 11:44.
  7. Carl
    Since: Jan 2009

    Sounds good to me. Sounds liek the kind of thing i’ll enjoy. And it’s free on PS+ so bonus. Might have to buy the DLC too

    Comment posted on 22/04/2013 at 12:53.
  8. bunimomike
    Since: Jul 2009

    Lovely stuff, Jim.

    Why? Because I’ve had this nagging feeling of “I really, REALLY should play this game” for months and your review has tipped me over into the “will definitely play it” column. Not only that but, weirdly, the two Cons are actually good things for me. Didn’t want to play some long-drawn out game and didn’t want it to be a ball buster.

    Bloody. Awesome. Stuff.

    Comment posted on 22/04/2013 at 13:01.
  9. JesseDeya
    Since: Jan 2010

    “gaming isn’t just about flashy set-pieces or flailing your arms in front of a television.”

    I’d argue that it should never be about flailing, but that’s a whole different topic.

    This is coming free to Plus user yeah? Might have to do more than just download it, might actually have to play it!

    Comment posted on 22/04/2013 at 16:02.
  10. simplebob
    Since: Mar 2009

    Guessing graphics dont make up 60% of that review score….looking forward to plying this a lot.

    Comment posted on 22/04/2013 at 21:33.

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