Thomas Was Alone is a puzzle platformer developed and published by Mike Bithell. The inclusion of Thomas Was Alone in the current Humble Bundle sale has given me a chance to revisit and review a game that's very close to my heart indeed. If I ever were to make a list of my top ten games of all time or some such contrivance, I have little doubt Thomas Was Alone would be on there. Highly placed as well, one speculates.
For those not already acquainted with the game, Thomas Was Alone is a puzzle platformer by independent game developer Mike Bithell. At the time of its release, it came seemingly out of nowhere, mostly unannounced and without any major backing. When people discovered it, however, it became something of a phenomenon. Indeed "something of a phenomenon" doesn't seem to do it justice. While SteamCharts is no scientific tool, if there is any truth to its numbers at all, Thomas was Alone is among one of the more successful games on Steam. Coming from a handful of talents and a single developer, that is noteworthy indeed.
Thomas Was Alone is a game that leaves a reviewer in something of a quandary. It's a hard game to review, not because it's difficult to play, it actually hits quite a sweet spot in that regard, challenging the player but not overmuch, nor because it is buggy, because I have gone trying to find bugs and have not had any success. It's a hard game for someone like me to review because quite frankly, the chief reason to play it is the overarching story delivered by some of the best narration I've heard used in a video game.
Stripped of that element, Thomas Was Alone would simply be a quirky, fun little puzzle platformer that you'd play through once or twice and enjoy, and leave it at that. The narration, delivered in spectacular form by Danny Wallace (of Assassin's Creed fame), presents the story of the game in brilliant form, and if there's one thing that I have heard repeated again and again by critics, gamers, and otherwise those playing the game, be they platformer fans or not, is that they wanted to continue the game just to get that next bit of story, that incremental soundbye glimpse into the world of our quadrilateral protagonists - and antagonists!
Indeed, as some who follow my reviews know, I'm not "big" on platformers. There's a few I enjoy, but even those ones I was terrible at, because the arthritis I suffer through and deal with on a daily basis makes it a genre that I suffer through. There's some games that are good to the point I happily suffer them because they're just good games. Then there's the one, that platformer I wouldn't even say I suffer through, and that is Thomas Was Alone. The story does that for me, as it does for many others.
What Thomas Was Alone does as well, however, is a masterful job at placing the emphasis on the puzzles rather than the platforming. Platforming in and of itself is well-trodden ground, and there isn't much new to be done with it, I feel, but the puzzles of Thomas Was Alone are where it differentiates itself in that regard. They're really clever puzzles too - the kind of puzzles that especially towards the end do a very masterful job of being both simple and devious, requiring using the mechanics at hand without them feeling shoe-horned in or otherwise clumsy. The mechanics evolve with the story, and vice versa, as the tale of our brave little dots unfolds.
And just the language I use hints at the powerful narrative been woven with Thomas Was Alone. The characterisation delivered through that narration is something that sticks with you, both for how well the narration is delivered and the quality of the writing. How the characters are established doesn't end there though - the design of each of the characters and their corresponding abilities reinforces how they are portrayed. I have yet to see someone who plays the game that doesn't end up having a favourite.
Thomas Was Alone, on so many levels, is a very thoughtful game. It evokes a lot of emotional response, and it does that out of a careful thought to the design and presentation of the game. From the music which is melodious and very well-composed, to the narration, to the meticulous way in which every element has been put together, Thomas Was Alone achieves everything it set out to do - and perhaps much, much more.
At the end of it all, Thomas Was Alone is the story of dear Thomas. He was alone, but perhaps you might keep him company a while.