Friendship. And Jumping.
The PlayStation store describes Thomas Was Alone — somewhat hilariously — as “a game about friendship and jumping.” The thing is … It kind of is exactly that. I really can’t think of a better way to describe it. The cast — including the titular red rectangle Thomas — are a motley crew of coloured blocks of varying size and ability. And to my delight, I did actually form a bond with them- or at least their story. As for jumping, well there’s plenty of that: less than 2 hours of play in and I’d unlocked a trophy for jumping 1,600 times.
The game’s storytelling mechanic borrows inspiration most obviously from Bastion and Portal 2 – narrator Danny Wallace provides insight into the characters and their two-dimensional world, quite excellently I’d add. Quips, jokes and observations are sprinkled generously throughout the game’s 100 levels. Oh, but before you gasp at “100 levels” (!) know that this is not Super Meat Boy: Thomas Was Alone is, for the most part, not a platformer where you are made to learn by trials and repeated failures. Anyone is likely to have their share of deaths, but this is not a never-ending, one-upping skill challenge. Thomas is first and foremost a jumping puzzle-lite experience with a story that it wants the player to experience from beginning to end. That’s not to say there’s no challenge, you’re just unlikely to get stumped anywhere. With some long pauses throughout I finished the game in probably about 4 hours of actual play time. So I’d say you’ll get 3-5 hours here based on how well you get on with the precision jumping genre. Side note: I play slowly, so if you finish it in 2 hours don’t hold it against me!
Back to Mr. Wallace’s narration – being the sole method of doling out story to the player– Thomas and his friends don’t talk, they simply emit blips and bloops when jumping– it can get overly cute at times, and there is one particularly immersion-breaking joke referencing Gaming Meme-dom, but admittedly I smiled and had a good chuckle over it. For the most part his voice over is delivered sincerely, and it never grates or becomes overly saccharine. There is a developer commentary track which I haven’t yet listened to, but apparently lead developer Mike Bithell provides some sort of commentary for every level, quite impressive, even if many of the early ones will take less than 10 seconds to complete. One note on the audio: I found that the narration was sometimes drowned out by the music, so I would recommend turning it 3 or 4 notches below the VO; it’ll still be quite audible.
Up, and to the Right
Speaking of the music, it’s quite lovely as it happens. At first unassuming and rather…float-y, it steadily escalates every ten stages; each electronic glitch and piano plink quietly crescendo; it is minimalist throughout yet becomes utterly arresting, greater than the sum of its parts I’d say. This, along with Mr. Wallace’s sincere and fascinated narration in the last third of the game, lend Thomas its heart. And at its heart this is most certainly a game where you will jump, and it is undoubtedly about the ups and downs of friendships – or in another way: relationships.
Thomas, a little red rectangle unsure of how he exists, is faced with perhaps one of humanity’s most unknowable existential dilemmas: “why?” There is no answer to why whether he knows it or not. Still, he resolves to be a good friend; to embody empathy. Like his friends, he experiences doubt, fear and helplessness, but through the growth of these friendships and their shared experience — their struggle — he is left with one very important thought: he is not alone.
Developer: Mike Bithell | Publisher: Bossa Studios/Curve Studios | Released: July 24, 2012 (PC)/ April 23, 2013 (PlayStation 3/Vita)
Available on: PS3, PS Vita , PC (Windows & Mac) | Time Played: Completed (3-5 hours)
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