I’ve never taken a liking to a two-dimensional quadrilateral before. I am thankful to Mike Bithell for righting that grievous misstep in my life with Thomas Was Alone. Originally a Flash-based browser game, Thomas Was Alone has since released for Windows, OSX, Linux, PS3, and PS Vita. In fact, it was even available as one of the games in the Instant Game Collection on Playstation Plus and part of a Humble Indie Bundle.
The game is a puzzle platformer in which you control a selection of simple shapes – squares and rectangles, specifically – and guide them all to their own exit, which is an outline of their respective shapes somewhere in the level. Each shape has different properties ranging from simple things like how high it can jump compared to others, to being bouncy, so that any shape that lands on it will bounce upwards.[drop]You must use the characters’ properties to navigate each level. Some shapes can’t jump particularly high, so you need to use it to jump onto another shape so it can reach ledges. The early levels are filled with simple obstacles like this but it slowly gets more difficult as it introduces more mechanics and tests become more complicated; they don’t necessarily reach a point where you’ll completely stumped on a puzzle however, making the game more of a pleasant challenge than a serious puzzler.
It doesn’t get boring though, and continues to introduce new and interesting mechanics as you continue through the game, whether it’s levels that move around or more shapes with new properties.
Perhaps the reason this game grabs my attention is its narrative. Without this, it’s a pretty puzzler that’s only a mild challenge and probably not worthy of note, but the narrative takes these little rectangles and gives them personality. In most levels, the narrator will tell you about the shapes, addressing them by name.
The four-sided figures all have distinct personalities and the narrator will highlight how they’re interacting with each other – two of them fall in love, one of them doesn’t like the company of the other shapes at first, etc. It’s such an unlikely thing, but it is impossibly charming.
As an example, my favourite shape is Claire because she thinks she is a superhero due to her ability to float on water. At one point we’re told that she feels she needs to choose a better name, because Claire simply won’t do for a superhero. It’s things like this that make me love the game. Each of the shapes in this game have more character and personality than most AAA games can muster for their main character – and they are four sided shapes on a 2D plane.
That little narrative, the explanation of how some of the shapes are not getting along, how others are falling in love, how some are coming around to enjoying the company of the other shapes: it is just adorable.[drop2]This results in raising this game from a simple puzzle platformer to something I want to keep on playing just so I can enjoy hearing about these five rectangles and squares a little more. The writing, the narrator’s voice acting, it’s all perfect and it actually makes me a little sad that it had to end so soon.
And on top of all of this, it looks pretty too. Made up of 2D shapes and coloured backgrounds with a shadow around a light source, it’s not graphically intensive but it looks pretty nonetheless. It’s a beautiful aesthetic that fits in with the rest of the game perfectly. Then there’s the music, which is also excellent.
Thomas Was Alone has been featured on TSA before (review here) but I felt it deserved a little more attention just in case anyone had it through PS+ and hadn’t gotten around to actually playing it yet, or for anyone whom it had somehow slipped by. It’s an enjoyable, adorable platformer that is just a little bit different from everything else, and what is Indie Focus about if not exactly that?
You can buy the game from Steam (on Windows and OSX) for £1.49 until the 22nd July, at which point it will resume its normal price of £5.99 (which was already worth it). You can also get it from the official site for £5.99 (again, Windows and OSX), where you’ll get the game DRM free and a Steam key. You can also get it from Desura and IndieCity for the same price, but only for Windows. Finally, it’s available for £5.99 from PSN for both PS3 and Vita.