Thomas Was Alone is an interesting game. Strictly speaking, it is a puzzle platformer where you navigate the environment by jumping and other mechanics, but there are no plumbing enthusiasts or mushrooms here. Neither is Thomas really alone. The cast of characters is a collection of differently sized rectangles and squares, complete with their own personalities and inner dialog. Think of it like Pong meets Portal, narrated by the nice sounding-Danny Wallace who gives voice to the inner monologues of each of the block shaped characters, minus the homicidal AI robot lady, plus some nasty water and spiky walls. Sorry, no Portal guns though. Frowny face.
In Thomas Was Alone you control a motley crew of variously shaped and colored blocks. The goal is to get them from their spawn point to the magical portals that transport them to their next environment by traversing through the puzzle that is their current environment. The environments start out pretty basic to teach you the mechanics and the special abilities of each character. As you get to learn how to control each blocky adventurer, you will also get to know their feelings and motivations. From the eager, skinny red rectangle Thomas who loves to fall and “inverted fall”, and the short orange block Chris who is annoyed by that braggart Thomas and all his silly jumping (not that he has an inferiority complex about his limited ability to jump!) to a whole other cast of characters with their own personalities and unique shapes and abilities.
As a puzzle platforming game, Thomas Was Alone does not really set itself apart with its mechanics on their own – you will simply be jumping nimbly from one place to another, avoiding hazards and making your way towards your goal. What sets Thomas Was Alone apart is the ambiance. The bare bones, simplistic environments give the game its own uniqueness in this age of graphical excesses. Polygons? Who needs ’em! Quadrilaterals are where it’s at! But the simplistic characters are infused with more life and personality than you will see from characters in a lot of AAA titles. I won’t name any names, but you know who you are. Add to that an undercurrent of narrative on the importance of friendships and our relationships with other people, and this Pong platformer becomes a real blocky gem.
There are not a lot of bad things I can say about this game. One of the minor annoyances is with the text that pops up on the screen, with the text of the narrative disappearing rather quickly. This is a problem in the environments where there are time pressures. I found myself letting my little blocky friends die so I could read the whole text before it disappeared, then play the level again once I was caught up with the story. It’s a shame, because the story of the characters is so well done. I found I played the Vita version more because it’s so easy to just pick up and play through a level when I have a few minutes here and there, but the game plays equally well on PS3 and Vita. With Cross-Buy and Cross-Play, the decision of which platform to buy for is a non-issue. That has to be my favorite feature of any game, ever.
Thomas Was Alone might not be a flashy, adrenaline pumping action-fest, but it is everything that I love about quirky PSN games.