Graphics:
7.5
Gameplay:
8.4
Sound:
8.1
Control:
8.3
Replay Value:
8.0
Overall Rating:
8.2
Online Gameplay:
Not Rated
Publisher:
Curve Studios
Developer:
Mike Bithell
Number Of Players:
1
Genre:
Puzzle/Platformer
Release Date:
April 23, 2013


As part of PSXE's continued focus on "games we shouldn't have missed," here's a review of a particularly good indie title. 🙂

So many video games have become ultra-realistic. We can see the individual pores on a person’s face; expressions are amazingly authentic, and movement animation is physically accurate. We’ve come so far. …and yet, here I am, playing a game that simply uses differently shaped boxes as characters. One could argue that such a concept is merely lazy or unimaginative but in fact, it’s how those “characters” move and interact with one another that sets Thomas Was Alone apart. This puzzle/platformer is an understated, subdued, yet very addictive gem.

As you might expect, it doesn’t require a whole lot of graphical power to produce a block. Nor does it require an immense amount of development skill to create a world populated with a series of blocks and other angular shapes. Okay, so it’s not about meticulous, highly realistic design; rather, it’s about the overall product. As this is a true puzzle/platformer, how each level is constructed is paramount to the experience. This is where Mike Bithell shines, because each level is lovingly – albeit sparingly – crafted with the express purpose of providing the player with a simple yet very real challenge.

You’d think the sound adopts the same minimalist motif and while that’s true to some extent (crackling sound effects aren’t part of the presentation, obviously), there’s a pleasant surprise: The narration. Yes, there’s a narration that accompanies the adventures of these stalwart blocks, and it’s expertly delivered. It really puts the story at the forefront of the quest, and it helps to drive the experience forward. There’s also a quality soundtrack that accompanies and complements the contemplative action, so the audio is a definite highlight. Understatement is key in low-budget indie games; you just have to be sure it’s intentional and not just the absence of high-level quality.

Thomas is a block. He appears to be stranded in a strange world with other blocks. Each block has a specific skill-set; some are better at jumping while others have their own unique abilities. The cool part is that due to the aforementioned narrative, each block also has a distinct personality, so you almost feel as if you’re controlling fully developed characters. In truth, you kinda are…just because they’re faceless doesn’t mean they’re not appealing, and you start to root for Chris right from the start. He’s not endowed with the same acrobatic abilities as Thomas and for that, you immediately see him as a determined underdog. It’s another example of the developer’s successful attempt to make blocks – and a blocky environment – emotionally appealing.

Technically, Thomas Was Alone is a platformer with a heavy puzzle element. Each block can has a role to play, and your goal is for each block to reach his or her own exit in any given level. Each character must help the other; sometimes, it’s as simple as building a makeshift bridge while other times, you must come up with ingenious solutions to challenging environmental puzzles. We enjoy the increasing challenge because we’re so absorbed in conquering each level and learning more about each little block. The block personas really are a big part of the experience, and you’ll want to accompany them to the finish line.