At first glance Thomas Was Alone doesn’t seem like anything special. A basic platform game, from developer Mike Bithell, where you must fit geometric shapes into their corresponding outlines. Sounds a bit ‘Meh’, right? Wrong!
The game begins with Thomas, a small rectangular AI with the ability to jump. He is lonely. He is sentient. As he travels through portals to different levels he meets other AI, each with different abilities, each with fears and insecurities. Amongst them are Chris, a small orange square who is wracked with jealousy of how high Thomas can jump, he seems consumed with his hatred until he meets Laura, a flat pink rectangle who is insecure about being used as other AI can bounce higher when they jump on her. Chris falls in love with Laura. A square falls in love with a rectangle.AND.I.CARE.
Throughout the game the shapes, imbued with their own specific skills, must work together to reach the portals, all with the aim of reaching the ‘Fountain of Knowledge’, otherwise known as the Internet. Whilst in another game it would just feel like logically working out a puzzle using a series of blocks, with the fantastic use of narration from Danny Wallace, who won a BAFTA for this, it transforms into a group bonding and helping each other out. The soundtrack, an original score from David Housden, is quite simply beautiful and helps to elavate the emotion, complimenting each level perfectly. There is a certain point in one of the later stages where the story and the music combine so emotivly that I defy anyone not to pause for a few moments before completing an action that has a huge impact on the storyline.
The puzzles themselves are not overly difficult, though some logical thinking is necessary, and there were a few levels which required multiple attempts, but most of the ten chapters, each with ten stages, are navigated easily. I played this on an iPad, and though it can be played on a phone, the smaller screen may be a slight issue. There were a number of times where my own thumb got in my way and my character shot off in the wrong direction and had to rematerialise at my last save point, though fortunately these are frequent. There is an option to change controls so you can move the shapes from anywhere on the screen, but it was actually more difficult for me, so I promptly switched back. A smaller screen would also make selecting characters more difficult, as this is done by tapping a small coloured image of them peeking out of the side of the screen, you’ll probably come away with a ‘fat thumbs’ complex. A useful addition would be the option of zooming out to get an overview of a level, though it is panned over at the start of each stage it’s too fast to really gauge what path to take, however, perhaps that would take the challenge out a little.
Since its original release an extra two chapters, playable separately from the main game, have been added. These are entitled ‘Benjamin’s Flight’ , and actually serve as a prequel to Thomas Was Alone. In this we meet Benjamin, who is testing out the jet pack made by his father, who he subsequently loses when passing through a portal. He teams up with Sarah, an impressive double jumper who you will recognise from the original story, thus explaining why she knows so much about the ‘Fountain of Knowledge’. It’s a great addition, and due to the power of Benjamin’s jet pack, far more challenging.
This is not a game that is going to take up much of your time, and it’s compelling enough that you’ll want to keep playing, so completing it won’t take long. I don’t necessarily deem this as a negative though, as it means that the story doesn’t feel dragged out, and the basic look of the game doesn’t have time to become boring. The price tag of £3.99 in the AppStore is in my opinion totally worth it for the content, and the ease of play makes it perfect for non gamer types, yet it has enough heart to be worthwhile for the all of the hardened gamers out there. This game made me genuinely give a shit about a little rectangle and his colourful buddies. That is a sentence I never thought I would write. I cannot recommend this enough.
Thomas Was Alone