Review: Thomas Was Alone

Game: Thomas Was Alone
Made by: Bithell Games
Published by: Bithell Games
Available for: PC, Mac, Xbox One, Playstation 4, Wii U, iOS, Android

Thomas Was Alone is the game that made me care about colored rectangles. The game’s general concept is simple; a platformer where different characters have different abilities, and the player can cycle through and play as all available characters to complete the mission. Rather than design a set of well-drawn and composed characters, though, developer Mike Bithell chose to keep the game simple, opting to make them all different-colored rectangles.

The platforming in Thomas Was Alone is fun, though simple, but where the game finds its shine is through Danny Wallace’s narration, which adds depth and personality to an otherwise very average puzzle game. As you progress through the game’s hundred or so levels, Wallace vocally assigns each of these mute, expressionless characters an identity that sticks with them as they interact with their newfound colleagues. Here, the story isn’t necessary exceptional, but there’s something special about exploring themes of uncertainty, loneliness, jealousy, and love through a set of solid-colored quadrilaterals. Thomas Was Alone doesn’t revolutionize the platformer, and it doesn’t tell an epic story, but at its end, it had me honestly rooting for a collection of small, colored shapes to find their own forms of happiness.

FEATURES

Platforming: At its core, Thomas Was Alone is a platformer; there’s no combat, no quests, and no loot. Early on, the game makes its identity clear, setting a mantra — “up, and to the right.”

Narration: Danny Wallace’s narration is the strength of this game, and the only real way it delivers its story. Thomas Was Alone is a narrative experience, with the platforming providing an entertaining backdrop for the story being told.

Puzzles: The game’s puzzles come in the form of switching between characters to solve a problem. One character is small but can’t jump high, one can float, one acts as a bounce-pad for others; each level in Thomas Was Alone is about using several of these allies to reach a common objective.

Relaxing Gameplay: The gameplay in Thomas Was Alone is relatively simple, and each level is no more than a few minutes long. There are ways to fail, and some of the later (and DLC) levels offer a challenge, but the overall aesthetic of the game is calm and episodic.

WHAT I LIKED

Narration: For Thomas Was Alone, the narrative storytelling style is perfect. This game shines in its ability to attach a compelling story to what is essentially a simple platformer and to its rectangular characters.

Puzzle Platforming: Throughout this review, I’ve made the simplicity of Thomas Was Alone clear, but I don’t mean to suggest the game isn’t fun without the narration. The variety of characters with different abilities and the need to switch between them in order to bring them all to the end of the level requires a fair amount of thought and strategy. The game’s narration is what makes it great, but the gameplay of Thomas Was Alone stands on its own as fun and engaging.

CONCERNS

Brevity: I’ve played through Thomas Was Alone twice, and Steam says I’ve played it for seven hours. I consider the game worth it, but anyone looking for something with more content may want to look elsewhere.

What You See is What You Get: Thomas Was Alone is a simple but fun puzzle platformer with the added element of a compelling narrative story and theme. If you’re not interested in the game after reading its premise, it’s not going to pull you in with anything else.

WHO’S IT FOR?

If you’re looking for a simple, relatively relaxing platformer with a compelling narrative experience, Thomas Was Alone is the game for you.

STATISTICS

From Steamspy unless otherwise noted.

Average Playtime*: 2.5 hours
Average Cost per Hour**: $4.00

Median Playtime*: 1.5 hours
Median Cost per Hour**: $6.66

* Playtime rounded to the nearest half-hour
**Costs calculated using a price of $9.99

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