What could have easily been only a simple puzzle platformer about hauling around quadrilaterals to their respective goals became a thoughtful story about the plight of sentient AI and their efforts to escape the digital containment of a computer mainframe. Thanks to some clever narration, life was injected into the array of playable shapes, and insisted on a reason to progress through the game that extended beyond just completing levels for the sake of it. It’s pretty remarkable how a charming narrative and emotional soundtrack can take what would otherwise be a rather basic experience and elevate into something that feels much more grand in comparison.
In Thomas Was Alone, you switch around from taking control of different colored and sized rectangles – each with their own set of unique attributes – and utilize them in collaboration to get over obstacles, and to ultimately reach the end goal of each stage. The mechanics are fairly simple and straightforward, and the presentation/aesthetic makes it come off as somewhat of a glorified flash game. I don’t say that as a bad thing, in fact, that’s what helps make the accomplishments of the narrative seem much more impressive. It’s the stark contrast between the fact that you’re moving around an assortment of expressionless rectangles in a minimalist world, and the fact that the careful and deliberate narration makes you actually care about those expressionless rectangles, that ends up contributing to this game’s uniqueness.
The way Thomas Was Alone personifies the playable blocks into notable characters is quite clever. It takes the rectangles and gives them a personality that often reflects whatever unique ability that they individually possess. For example, Chris is a short and stubby orange square that can fit into small places that most of the other characters can’t. He has a bit of a short man’s complex, often is grumpy, and feels like he doesn’t need help from any of the other characters. John is a tall, yellow rectangle that jumps the highest out of all of the other initial characters. He’s somewhat egotistical because of it, and likes showing off. Chris takes a particular disliking to this character at the start, while John merely finds Chris’s cynicism amusing. As one might imagine, there is a good deal of development that goes on between the cast of characters, which is noted by the narrator. It all feels like a story of an unlikely meeting of people with unusual abilities that get together to fight for the greater good.
The simplicity of this game doesn’t go completely without fault. Thomas Was Alone offers decent variation throughout the progression in terms of obstacles and how much of what abilities you’re relying on by a level to level basis, but it wasn’t enough to keep things from feeling a bit repetitive at a few points later in the game. The characters definitely felt fun to control. The jumping animations gave off a bit of a sense of bounce, which is a little detail that I always appreciated. Difficulty wise, this game is very low on the scale, which made it good to play purely for relaxation purposes and never demands much from your mind or reflexes.
At the end of the day, any game that can make me feel even slightly emotionally attached to a bunch of rectangles is pretty solid and worth playing in my book.
I played Thomas Was Alone on the PS Vita.
This is my second playthrough of the game. I originally played it back in 2013 and decided to revisit it in anticipation of Mike Bithell’s new release, Volume. (That is, if the Vita version ever comes out….)