You got me. You bloody got me.
What is this world? What is this world where I can play a game about different sized rectangles and walk away with a legitimate emotional connection?
An emotional connection to rectangles … I don’t know what this world is, but I want to stay here forever.
Thomas was Alone is a near-perfect match of minimalist art colliding with clever writing and solid mechanics. It shouldn’t work – it’s a game about rectangles – but it does, effortlessly.
The game starts by introducing the player to Thomas – a medium sized red rectangle who’s very good at falling. On this specific day, Thomas learns to master the ‘inverted fall’, also known as a jump. It’s then up to the player to bound over obstacles and climb steps to reach the portal to the next level.
The game does a great job of easing the player in and explaining what’s going to be expected of them. On the first playthrough it’s easy to see this hand-holding, but upon playthrough number two, you’ll realize just how useful these early levels are when it comes to grasping how everything works.
After a few levels, players come across Chris – a stumpy and bitter yellow square who can’t jump as high as his nemesis Thomas, but can fit into tight areas Thomas cannot. Chris brings with him another problem. If he can’t jump as high, how can he clamber up onto higher platforms? This is when the game brings in the co-op element. Switching between the two characters allows Chris to climb said platform by using Thomas as a makeshift stepping-stone.
Despite being a rectangle, Thomas is a very human character. Along with crisp mechanics and captivating story is a whimsical soundtrack – by David Housden – that beautifully adds to the setting while never becoming overbearing. A lot of story driven games often come with a soundtrack that either pushes itself too hard onto the player or falls flat. As an example: everyone who played Halo knows the theme tune. That’s because it’s forcefully played at every given opportunity. On the other end of the spectrum we have games like Dragon Age; we might know some songs, but they mostly fall into background noise that few players remember. Thomas’ soundtrack is one that adds to the level, helps the player feel calm and relaxed without ever attempting to become an iTunes best seller. Thomas was Alone isn’t all happy sailing and praise, mind. If you bring up a menu mid-game, the circle button doesn’t act as ‘back’ or ‘exit’, as is customary in most PlayStation titles. Terrible, right? What a complete bastard that developer Mike Bithell is… Look, anything that’s bad in Thomas was Alone, is minor. There could be more color, but it’s a minimalist game, and because of that, everything pops that much more. It’s a bit short, but it costs under six quid. The game doesn’t get hard. Is it an unwritten rule that puzzlers should be hard? Does every game have to be the next Super Meat Boy or Magnus: OHD? Why can’t we have a story driven puzzler that doesn’t make you want to smash the controller while slicing your fingers off so you never have to suffer the hardships certain puzzle games bring with them? Guns! Blood! More guns! Boobies! Even more guns! The gaming community loves to moan how there’s a million ‘greyscale’ shooters and how games stick to an ancient formula in order to become a success. Thomas was Alone is a new kind of Prince in a Kingdom ruled by King Generic III.
Thomas is a concoction comprised of three compounds: story, gameplay, and music. All three of these elements are as close to perfection as we’ve seen in a long time… probably since Valve wowed the industry with Portal in 2007. If you’re a fan of indie, puzzle games, or stories, you are doing yourself a disservice by not playing Thomas was Alone. Whether you’re on PS3 or Vita, this gem is a must.
Thomas was alone no more; he found us, the player – and cheesy endings to overly-gushy reviews.