Game Review: Thomas was Alone

Boxart, Thomas Was AloneReviewed on Playstation Vita and PS3, Official Website

Rated “E” for Everyone, All Ages

There are some games that, when you finally get around to playing them, you literally ache with a vague, persistent worry because you might have missed this game. That, of course, underlies a sublime, barely constrained joy that you didn’t miss this game.

I started this on the PS Vita one night. I was looking for something simple to wind down with. I usually do a crossword puzzle or two, but my tablet had run out of juice. I ended up playing through nearly the entire game (and staying up well past my bed time). The next day I started it over on the PS3 just to share it with my wife, and I finished it in a single sitting. I still shudder to think that, if not for a dead battery, I might have missed this!

The experience reminds me favorably of thatgamecompany’s masterpiece, “Flower“. Both games imbue otherwise nondescript objects – it’s impossible to call them “characters” at first – with amazing emotional depth and personality. Flower does this to wind-blown petals through motion, music and color. The emotional attachment you’ll form with those petals is surprisingly strong.

“Thomas” does the same thing for a collection of simple quadrilaterals. Motion and music play a large part, but most of the credit has to be given to the power of the narrative. Delivered masterfully by Danny Wallace, the narration hides a surprising psychological depth under it’s overt hilarity. Each character – again all simple rectangles of various sizes and colors – is given a host of personality traits; both foibles and strengths.

At its core, the game is a simple multi-character platformer. Each character has different skills and all must work together to solve the numerous challenges laid before them. It would have a been a good game, even a great game, on that score alone. The lovingly crafted personalities for the characters, expertly delivered to the player, elevate it to a work of classic fiction.

You meet Thomas first. Curious and introspective,Thomas is a born experimenter. Chris, the smallest and weakest of the group, is a first-class curmudgeon. John is a showman at heart and more than a bit of a megalomaniac. Clair is… too amazing to spoil here, but Clair is amazing. There are many other characters as well, all just as richly defined.

Like “Flower”, you’ll leave the game with deep, very real feelings of hope and joy, perhaps tinged with sadness that it’s over. You’ll probably want to share it, as I did, with somebody that you care about as soon as you can. It generates that wonderful kind of infectious, giddy happiness that you won’t be able to keep to yourself.

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