Thomas was on PC. And then, a little while later, Thomas came to PlayStation devices. Soon after this, Thomas was no longer alone, as Mike Bithell was propelled into the spotlight as one of the most important indie developers around. So, Thomas and Mike captured the PC market, before tackling the wider market of PlayStation, and now Mike’s busy creating Volume – a modern take on Robin Hood, complete with Tony Stark-esque holograms.
But Thomas isn’t done yet. By way of Bossa Studios and BigRedSwitch – who you may know as Driveclub’s ex game director, Col Rodgers – he’s making his way to perhaps the biggest market of all, as Thomas Was Alone arrives with all of his friends on iPad today.
So, the most important question: how does it play? Given that Thomas Was Alone is a rather simple game, it plays absolutely fine, and you’ll once again be tackling a stylish 2D platformer with rectangles and squares as the multifaceted main characters, backed up with some brilliantly scripted narration delivered by Danny Wallace, making these rectangles feel like real characters. Coming to the iPad, there are on-screen controls for move – on the left – and jump – on the right – and that’s about it, well, at least when you’re playing with Thomas alone.
When he meets his friends – John, Claire et al. – you’ll be often switching between the characters, and this is achieved by clicking tabs on the left and right of the screen respectively. It’s a bit different to the way the PS Vita approached things, but works just as well, and the screen doesn’t get cluttered despite some levels featuring several characters at once.
It’s the way these characters work together that’s at the heart of the game. Claire’s big and slow, but she’s a superhero with the power to float in water, and can carry the smaller ones across. John’s tall, so can make large jumps where others can’t, or can even be used as a way of reaching higher places. And then there’s Laura: she’s flat and long, but the other characters can bounce on top of her. It’s your job to get all of these characters – different combinations at times – to the end of each level.
This probably isn’t the best version of Thomas Was Alone. Despite the smaller screen, the PS Vita’s buttons combined with the touch screen give it a bit of an edge, and the iPad version feels clumsy in places, where it sometimes doesn’t quite register your actions or the framerate drops at certain sections. These issues can be quite jarring, particularly the low frame rate at times, but a Retina display does really add to proceedings – it’s as stylish and minimalist as ever, but when you’re up close and personal it looks great on the iPad screen.
Sound – or speech, rather – really makes Thomas Was Alone, though, and despite some very simplistic noises elsewhere, Danny Wallace’s charming narration once again shines, as he characterises these rectangles until you’ll feel genuine empathy for their plight. It helps that it’s actually a great story too, but we won’t spoil any of that here. That all merges with some excellent mood-setting music to really make this more than just another 2D platformer.
If you haven’t played Thomas Was Alone before, and particularly if you don’t own a PlayStation Vita, then it’s really worth watching out for the iPad version. It’s not the greatest port and may be a bit more pricey than other platformers on the App Store, coming in at the same price as the other versions, £5.99, but it’s a decent length and makes up for it in tone, plot and presentation.