Even pixels get the blues
Going into Thomas Was Alone, I thought I had it all figured out. “Interesting, a puzzle-platformer featuring a cast of different-shaped cubes,” I said to myself. And, to an extent, I was correct. At face value, that is exactly what this game is. But I didn’t anticipate how much I would care for those little cubes, or how excitedly I’d cheer them on in their quest for answers. I wanted nothing but the best for them.
In the beginning, there was Thomas. An AI agent birthed from a glitch, he’s been thrust into a world that makes no sense to him. He carries on, slowly learning the ways of the land, and what he must do to navigate it. “Inverted falls,” for example, are a great way to overcome obstacles. And water, it seems, has the potential to destroy him. Onward he marches, swallowing the loneliness and finishing puzzle after puzzle.
Then, something amazing happens.
At the start of a new puzzle, Thomas comes across a little square fellow named Chris. Chris is a bit of a prude, but he grants Thomas the ability to get to higher areas. He’s the first of a handful of characters who crop up over the course of the game; each of which possess a certain trait or ability all their own. You’re in control of all of them, and the lion’s share of the game’s puzzles force you to take advantage of their unique traits to reach the end.
Where the puzzling aspect of the equation is concerned, Thomas Was Alone isn’t what you’d call a difficult game. It was a rare occasion to be at a loss for what to do next in a level – it was actually doing it that was tricky at times. Some of the platforming sections call for very accurate jumping, or just straight up busywork. One portion in particular featured a staircase that had to be methodically scaled by all the cubes in my control. On the plus side, areas like that were a very rare occurrence.
But to hone in on these minor issues is to miss the big picture. Yes, Thomas Was Alone suffers from the same problems many other puzzle-platformers do, but it also suffuses the genre with a level of intrigue and whimsy you don’t often see. At one point, for example, the titular Thomas finds himself lodged in the Internet for twelve seconds, where he learns everything from memes to, more importantly, what he and his friends must do to escape the virtual world and plunge into the real one.
This admittedly strange tale is told in a way that sees the gameplay and narrative working in tandem, a quality you don’t often see in games. They play off each other in a way that — sans a few hiccups — ensures that there’s always something happening to keep you entertained. Be it the dulcet tones of narrator Danny Wallace, or the game’s dopamine-vending platforming sections, there’s always something to keep the player entertained.
Like many of you, I play a lot of games. And over the years, a percentage of them have managed to take up permanent residence in my brain. Some of them I look back on as just great experiences, and others leave me mulling over weighty themes. Ultimately, Thomas Was Alone falls into both camps. It completely revamped my thoughts on what it takes to make a compelling protagonist, and wrapped it all up in an incredible puzzle-platformer package. As such, I can’t help but recommend it to video game fans of every stripe.
You’ll come for the jumping, but inevitably stay for the excellent storyline.