Game #23: Thomas Was Alone (2010-12)

Commentarycreator: Mike Bithell
language: English
length: 100 levels
played on: 3 June 2013

This is yet another indie platformer that I played through the most recent Humble Bundle. In this one you play a little red rectangle called Thomas. At first he’s alone, jumping around platformer worlds into an exit, then later he’s joined by other playable characters, all of whom are also little rectangles – but they all have different abilities in terms of how fast they move and how high they jump, or another few special abilities like floating on water, or acting as a springboard.

The story is narrated in the style of Douglas Adams (which is perhaps why I found it clichéd, to be honest) by Danny Wallace, whose name I’m certain I’ve seen before, although I didn’t recognise his voice. In this sense it became almost like an audiobook and it was an effective way of telling the story of these little blocks of pixels. It was the way in which the game became actually interesting – and it gives you a look into the inner workings of all the characters’ minds.

The game is split into ten parts, of ten levels each, and each part introduces a new character. The story starts to take off around the 5th chapter, when the little rectangles start to be threatened by a mysterious ghostly thing – the computer simulation trying to shut them down. Other hints are given to the nature of what’s going on, in the form of news reports and biographies of the characters, and it essentially implies that they’re the Singularity (and at one point it mentions civil rights campaigners for robots, at which point I just thought “nope”). The main character, Thomas, manages to access the outer internet, at which point the game made the references (primarily cat pictures, Nathan Fillion and “the cake is a lie”) which are ultimately going to make it age badly – they are already at least three years out of date. This makes sense given that the original draft of the game was made in 2010, but the final game was released in 2012, and it could have perhaps been given more up-to-date references.

In terms of gameplay, it was quite good overall, although switching between characters could get annoying and confusing, especially because they would be listed in a different order on every level. Also, every character had to be individually moved to their own exit, which was annoying on levels on which every character had to make the same journey across the level because to some extent you can repeat yourself easily, or you get the problem where you scout ahead with a character who can jump high but have to bring them back again to provide “steps” for a character who can’t jump high – the characters can jump on each others’ heads no problem, but the manoeuvres could get very complex.

Anyway, it was engaging, but like the other games I’ve been playing recently, the graphics were overly simplistic, the game was too easy, and the overall length was too short – even though I stayed up way later than I should have, I also completed this game in one sitting. This game has 100 levels – I guess I’m spoiled by old games like Lemmings, but I think I sort of expect the difficulty of 100-level platformers to sharply curve upwards about a third of the way through the game, and with many of these recent games, that hasn’t happened. This game gets more interesting and inventive but not really that much more difficult.

For me, it’s not brilliant, but it was fun and interesting. Unfortunately, by the looks of it it’s the only game in HB8 that’s actually worth playing. But I suppose even if I only play one of five games I’m still getting a bargain.

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