Thomas Was Alone PS3/Vita Review

Publisher: Mike Bithell  Developer: Curve Studios, Bossa Studios  Genre: Puzzle, Platformer 

Players: 1  Age Rating: 3+  Other console/handheld formats: N/A

It goes some way for storytelling when narration is able to turn simple shapes into characters. This is certainly the case with Thomas Was Alone, a popular indie game with simple but likeable visuals and music, which first appeared on PC and Mac formats last year. Without Danny Wallace’s narration, Thomas Was Alone would be a lot less memorable, but with the narration the game and its characters are truly brought to life.

Thomas Was Alone is a title that gives nothing away as to what the game entails, well other than the fact that there’s a character called Thomas who was once alone. The game is a 2D puzzle platformer, which takes basic and controllable shapes and presents you with 100 puzzles to overcome. It sounds really quite odd, and, well, it is.

Initially, you take control of the titular Thomas (an AI that has become self-aware and is craving freedom) who is very much alone to begin with. Thomas is a red rectangle, and you soon learn that your objective is to get Thomas to the white rectangle; a shape which he obviously fits snugly inside considering that he’s a rectangle himself. The game gives you plenty of time to grasp what is expected of you, before then introducing you to more shapes to take control of, most of which have mundane names such as Chris, Laura, John and Sarah.

Each of the characters in the game have their own ability, and you’ll soon learn that combining the shapes is the way to go in order to ensure that all the shapes in each level are able to reach their matching exit points. Perhaps a particular shape isn’t able to jump very high, and getting other shapes into a particular order will then create a staircase for the more inadequate jumper to leap up. This is just one example, and switching shapes and getting them into their places is the basic aim of the game. There’s a big block that can float on water, another that can double jump, one that is small enough to fit through little gaps, another that works as a trampoline etc. With the latter said, most brains will know what to expect in terms of the puzzles.

Where Thomas Was Alone falters is in its lack of challenge. Most who gain a complete understanding of how the game works will breeze through the 100 puzzles in next to no time, with little to stop them in their tracks. In fact, you could say that some of the puzzles aren’t really puzzles at all, with the solution being crystal clear, while the getting there does sometimes prove to be the difficult part. Creator Mike Bithell does suggest in the game’s commentary that he wanted to create a game that wouldn’t frustrate the player, although, while fun and strangely compelling, Thomas Was Alone is just too easy.

The thing that mainly kept me playing was certainly Danny Wallace’s narration, which adds so much to the game. The writing is such that basic shapes are given some personality, and there’s also a nice sense of humour in there, with the game also brilliantly tackling different themes such as loneliness, love, delusion, hatred, friendship, inferiority and more. It’s a masterful achievement to be able to turn everyday shapes into characters through the writing of the game, and some of these characters you may even come to care about.

Buy one version of Thomas Was Alone on a Sony platform, and you’ll get the other version for no extra charge. If you’re wondering which the best version is, I would definitely have to say the Vita version. The touch-screen controls of the handheld version makes for a very smooth experience, in which you can easily scroll through the available shapes and even instantly switch to a different one by simply touching it. For those who own both formats, the game also features Cross-Play, allowing you to save your progress on one system and then pick it up on another.

Thomas Was Alone is a bit of a difficult one to rate. The game’s lack of challenge is certainly detrimental to what is supposed to be a puzzle platformer at the end of the day, although the charismatic narration breathes life into the game and has proven to be something that has pushed many players to the end. If you’re looking for something to get the old brain matter working, Thomas Was Alone will unlikely satisfy, but if you’re looking for an easy to play game with a worthwhile story, then it may very well hit the spot while it lasts.