Thomas Was Alone ReviewPublisher: Mike Bithell
Platform: PC and Mac
UK Price (as reviewed): £5.99 Incl. VAT
US Price (as reviewed): $9.99 Excl. Tax
Thomas is alone. Thomas is a small red rectangle. Thomas doesn't have much in the way of animation; he has no voice and there's no detailed backstory involving gritty, grizzled grunts. He doesn't even have a gun, let alone an enemy to defeat. Nobody is squashed when Thomas jumps on their head.
By the standards of most videogames, Thomas is barely a character at all.
Despite these shortcomings though, Thomas manages to convey more personality and charm than most major studios could muster in a decade. He is brave, he is witty, he is good-natured and eager to please. What shines through most of all though is how whimsical and magical it feels to follow his story - feelings most games struggle to conjure at all, but which Thomas summons in spades.
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How does Thomas manage to accomplish what so few other games manage? Partly it's the writing, which is wry and witty and studded with naked emotion. Partly it's the knowing and pleasantly smug vocal work of narrator Danny Wallace, who's every word provokes a smile. Mostly though, it's the presentation and boiled-back aesthetic.
True, Thomas Was Alone doesn't look like much. It wouldn't be unfair to say that this is a game made mostly out of developer art with a spit-clean polish and you can probably count the number of items on screen with one hand most of the time. But there's a hidden strength here that runs through Thomas' design like a vein; everything which other games make complex Thomas makes simple. In doing so, the meaningful and really important stuff becomes the focus - the characters dominate your attention, not the world they inhabit.
So, yes, Thomas is alone (to start with anyway), but because everything around him is so simple, it never feels like there's anyone else to miss. You just plough through the levels, getting wrapped up in tale and appreciating the twee wit (twit?) and savouring the individual moments.
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There are plenty of moments to treasure too, such as when a new puzzle element is introduced or when you clear a stage of ten levels and move on to the next big chapter in Thomas' story. The best of all though are when new characters are introduced, each one with a new personality and new ability. There's James the worrying introvert who defies the laws of physics, angry Chris who can squeeze through tight spaces and a dozen other characters I really don't want to spoil but really do want to tell you about.
And isn't that the best compliment you can give a game, by the way? That you really want to talk about it because it's so amazing, but that it's also so joyous to play that you don't want to dilute the experience for others. That's exactly how I feel about Thomas Was Alone. It's so brilliant that I really don't want to tell you about it.