It’s a story of pixelated shapes and the world they inhabit. Accompanied by a soothing melody, Thomas Was Alone, from British developer Mike Bithell, is a game meant to tug at the heartstrings.
It plays out almost like a children’s story, complete with whimsically cheeky narration from Danny Wallace of Assassin’s Creed fame. Though the story slightly falls apart towards the end, Thomas Was Alone is a relaxing experience filled with mildly challenging puzzles and a relaxing storybook ambiance.
Thomas Was Alone, which originally began its life as a free Flash title in 2010, follows the title character, a small red rectangle, through a digital world. Along the way, he encounters a number of four-sided friends, like Chris the square and John the longer yellow rectangle. To escape each level, the player must switch back and forth between characters and exit simultaneously through outlined slots. As Thomas proceeds through the world, he begins to notice an ominous pixel cloud that consumes anything it touches.
The puzzles mostly consist of platforming, with each character needing to take advantage of their unique abilities. Claire, the bulky blue square, for example, can float atop otherwise toxic waters. Laura, the flat pink rectangle, acts as a trampoline for her partners. The puzzles never grow too challenging and the game maintains a consistently pressure-free atmosphere. The platforming feels solid and precise for the most part, though I had one or two instances where the jumping felt slightly floaty. It also offers a sense of variety, as interesting new mechanics are introduced after the game’s halfway point. Despite having to balance the unique abilities of up to eight characters at a time, the challenge curve remains gradual. This is a game that can appeal to players of all skill levels.
Players switch between characters using the number key, which can often prove problematic. Each stage utilizes different characters and they’ll all be assigned to different number keys. Later levels don’t help matters by mixing the characters up. For example, many of the early stages have Thomas assigned to the “1” key, but later levels will shift him to the “2” or “4” slots. It becomes annoying to keep track of who’s who, particularly when you have an itchy trigger finger on the arrow keys.
Danny Wallace’s narration was not quite what I expected. I had hoped for more than a few passing lines per stage. However, Wallace’s storybook delivery succeeds in moving the narration along and giving a sense of personification to otherwise-faceless shapes. Many of Wallace’s lines are genuinely witty and the gentle tone of his voice helps makes Thomas Was Alone a pleasant experience.
I enjoyed the storybook narrative tremendously, as it served to give each character more depth that I’d expect from a colored shape. I’m surprised that Bithell was able to come up with distinct personalities and quirks for nearly a dozen shapes. Unfortunately, the story begins to come apart towards the end of the game. I feel like many of the characters are not given any sense of resolution and several plot elements are left hanging. The simple characters are charming, so it’s a shame that I don’t feel like their stories are tied up in a particularly meaningful way.
Sadly, once the story ends, it’s over. There are no unlockables, no scoring system, and no other incentive to play through the game a second time, unless you’re a fan of the narrative. While the story suffers a bit at the tail end, Thomas Was Alone still proves to be an entertaining puzzle experience. There’s enough to challenge your brain, but nothing overtly frustrating or time-consuming to be found. Anyone looking for a simpler puzzle game with a charming British accent will enjoy Thomas Was Alone.
Thomas Was Alone is available now for PC and Mac.
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