Thomas-Was-Alone---PS3-Double-Review Thomas Was Alone - PS3 Double Review

   29/04/2013 at 19:36       NewYork       19 COMMENTS. - Score 4/5
 - Thomas Was Alone, Puzzle, Platformer

This review features the opinions and musings of Derek Littlewood, with whom I engaged in some asynchronous and completely non-interactive back-and-forth.

Derek: I keep wanting to acronymise Thomas Was Alone, but something about the initials just makes me think people will get distracted.  And it’s important to not get distracted, because Thomas Was Alone is a wonderful, unique thing that deserves your full attention.

NY: One thing you certainly can't criticise Thomas Was Alone for is trying something new. Unique is a good word for it: while this game features many well-known concepts and mechanisms, they are brought together in a presentation that makes the experience feel fresh. 

Derek: The first thing that strikes you is how familiar it all feels. At least, it is for anyone like me who grew up on a diet of 2D platforming games long before they even really knew what an FPS even was. That carefully-weighted momentum of characters and their precisely-measured jumping speed and height dials right into muscle memories I haven’t used in years, and stripped down to the rawest of visual treatments there is no room for imprecision, and no chance of mistakes that are anything but your fault.

NY: It's been a while since I've played a platformer that has made me consciously remark how tight the controls feel. The various characters in this game all move with their own separate dynamics, but all in a predictable and satisfying way. It is immediately obvious which jumps can and can't be made, and it's this fine-tuned platforming that makes the twitchier levels such a joy to play. A shame, then, that so much of your time is actually absorbed in the more mundane activities of cycling through your bloated character-arsenal, moving them out of each other's way, and generally micromanaging. It's a shame too that as good as the controls are, the levels rarely give you the opportunity to flex your platforming muscle.

Derek: The narrative in Thomas takes a great huge shotgun blast out of my previously-cherished theory that the most rewarding stories in games are about the experience rather than the script. Although it makes for a captivating experience, it’s the deftly-written script and the characterisation it brings to those little coloured rectangles that really elevates it to something truly memorable. It’s funny too, with fan-pleasing nods to Portal and a few internet memes that show the game really knows its audience.

NY: The main point of praise I see for this game is that, in what seems almost an experimental success, the game manages to make you care about characters whose visual complexity is limited to their height, width, and fill colour. And admittedly you do eventually associate personalities with each quadrilateral. They are, however, rather two-dimensional personalities, restricted to perhaps one or two defining character traits that then get beaten to death throughout the game. And it's hard to keep caring as the cast size grows unmanageable and the vague plot leaves you with little ambition to carry on. The script is twee, but not a warm and comforting twee like Stephen Fry narrating LittleBigPlanet. It tries too hard and is too self-knowing. Danny Wallace's smug voice unfortunately detracts from the experience, and Portal jokes belong in 2007.

Derek: It’s certainly not perfect though.  Some occasionally unpredictable physics lets it down from time to time, some of the later levels don’t stretch your skills as much as you might hope they would, and the wonderful, haunting music is, dare I say it, in places just a little repetitive, although that will likely be because you’re so hopelessly captivated by the game that you’ve been playing it for three hours straight, after which time any tune might start to grate a little.

NY: The levels themselves have this bittersweet combination of the fun of working out how to get the characters to their goals, and then the laborious process of actually doing it. Once the--typically obvious--solutions click in your mind, it's rarely that exciting to enact that solution. Perhaps that's why I seemed to enjoy the levels where you control only one character the best: they seemed more geared towards making the environment fun and fast to traverse. The music is indeed chilling and quite stirring as far as game music goes... until you've heard one track on loop so many times that it starts to grate.

Derek: But the thing with Thomas Was Alone is that whilst it’s not perfect it is utterly adorable. Partly I think this is because it’s so lovingly made and so well-judged, but also because it was clearly made for people like us – gamers for whom lavish production values and big explosions are secondary to perfectly-honed mechanics and genuinely appealing characters.  

NY: In all fairness I wouldn't sell short the production values of Thomas Was Alone. For a game that has Flash roots, it doesn't look out of place on home consoles, with stunning dynamic visuals and effects. Though it seems simple at first, a lot more is happening on screen than is initially apparent. Even the menu interface is impressive: pleasingly sharp and clinical, sleek and matte. I can see where this game gets a reputation for being “lovely” and “adorable”, but for me it was perhaps overwhelmingly so. What's more, it simply wasn't underpinned with a strong enough gaming element.

Derek: Anyway, anyone that disagrees is clearly a total TWA.

NY: I'll need to Google that

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Associated screenshots.

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Sillothian - on 29/04/2013 at 21:21 wrote:
 
Great review chaps. Sounds like you should have played the game together. York solving the puzzles and Neko on the pad!
 

nekotcha - on 29/04/2013 at 21:32 wrote:
 
Hah, not what I was expecting but I like it!

Some good points made NY, the one thing I disagree with is the management of the characters being dull - there's some ingenious twists to how they can be combined which keeps things fresh, and I think that the puzzle aspect that they introduce definitely makes it more interesting than it would have been if it had just been a simple single-character platformer.
 

NewYork - on 29/04/2013 at 21:53 wrote:
 
Sure, the clever ways they can cooperate is the good part.

I'm more getting at those moments where say you need to move Laura to the right but you have big fat Claire and a few others in the way and obviously Laura can't jump them so you have to cycle through the characters (the L1/R1 system is so clunky) just to move them over Laura, all the while just wishing you could get on with it. Or if you get all the characters to the end of the level but they need to be assembled JUST RIGHT at the goal markers, and so you have to waste time with reassembling them in order, despite having finished the actual puzzle of the level.

But no you're right the ingenious twists with regards to their cooperation is good. Though I still prefer the levels with, say, 2 or 3 characters only, just because managing them is far more streamlined.
 

peej - on 29/04/2013 at 21:56 wrote:
 
Fantastic stuff, best thing I've read on here in a dog's age - really intrigued to try this now as I too still have that 'muscle memory' of remembering how weighted jumping was once the be all and end all of how platform games hung together. Awesome idea for a review though, well done both!
 

nekotcha - on 29/04/2013 at 22:41 wrote:
 
York deserves the credit, I just wrote a straight review. Cheers though!

Oh, and I should probably say - I actually reviewed the Mac version, which has direct selection of characters (via the number keys), which makes that *slightly* less annoying. I see your point when it gets up to 5-7 characters though.
 

HairyArse - on 30/04/2013 at 12:47 wrote:
 
It's like AATG's very own Ant and Dec, or Cannon or Ball, or Mr and Mrs Krankie.
 

nekotcha - on 30/04/2013 at 13:31 wrote:
 
Or Thomas and Chris.
 

Trip SkyWay - on 30/04/2013 at 14:23 wrote:
 
Nice.
 

TheBoy - on 01/05/2013 at 15:12 wrote:
 
Nice work guys, always nice to read something a bit different :)
 

NewYork - on 02/05/2013 at 08:17 wrote:
 
My god, every review I'm reading has the exact same line "...you start to CARE for them!"

You people (every other gamer) are way too easy
 

Flying_Pig - on 04/05/2013 at 10:49 wrote:
 
Superb review, gents. A great read. We really should try to have more of these 'face-off' style reviews :)
 

NewYork - on 05/05/2013 at 15:25 wrote:
 
Just played this again with developer commentary. Very insightful stuff (and he's got a lovely voice, does Mike Bithell).

Plus it's nice playing a tedious level while the voice of the developer is acknowledging the tedium.
 

Flying_Pig - on 11/05/2013 at 10:41 wrote:
 
Started this last night - about half way through and loving it. It's amazing how much character each of the rectangles has.

I don't think I like Chris.

Definitely in Camp Neko on this one, although I agree with NY that switching between characters is cumbersome when you've got more than 4 of them.
 

evilashchris - on 13/05/2013 at 10:05 wrote:
 
'I don't think I like Chris.'

....

:C
 

LockeTribal - on 13/05/2013 at 10:50 wrote:
 
Great review guys, would love to see more like it.

Finished TWA last night. I thought it was great and concur with most of the review. For me though its the voice-over that makes the game special. The platforming is perfect, as is the learning curve, but without the VO there'd be no heart and, as soppy as it sounds, you do learn to care for the characters (even Chris).
 

nekotcha - on 15/05/2013 at 10:01 wrote:
 
Aye, as LT says, you do end up empathising with all the characters, which is quite an achievement given that they're simply flat-shaded rectangles.

I saw a tweet from Mike Bithell (the game's creator) a few weeks back saying that he could tell how far people were through the game based on how much they liked (or disliked) Chris. I can see his point - and I bet you'll warm to him eventually Flying_Pig. :)
 

Kay - on 15/05/2013 at 13:21 wrote:
 
Started playing this morning. Agree with NY's comments on it being a bit fiddly with moving everyone around and putting them in the right position, and I'm still only on three characters!

Do like the voiceover and characterisation, although the ambient music is annoying and repetitive. Not totally enamoured with the game as of yet but it's oddly compelling.
 

NewYork - on 15/05/2013 at 20:16 wrote:
 
"Agree with NY's comments..."

Let it be known: York was right
 

Kay - on 17/05/2013 at 21:28 wrote:
 
Not quite... finished the game today, and actually really liked it by the end. Controls are super-tight (reminiscent of Super Meat Boy), and the addition of new characters and twists right up until the end kept things fresh. And although micro-management was fiddly at times, it wasn't as big an issue as I feared it would be. Length was perfect too. Not sure how I feel about the voice-over, felt a bit forced to me, though I suppose the game would have felt a bit empty without it.

Although the sound design was great overall, it could have done with a bit more polishing - there were a few glitches in there, the volume for the music and the voiceover kept going up and down, and the looping ambient music didn't transition smoothly, which was grating at times. Not sure how many of those issues were Vita-related. Shame as otherwise it was a beautifully-presented game overall.

Anyway - cracking review too, should definitely have more of this sort of thing on the site.
 


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All of it! I want all of it!
 
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Thanks fella.
 
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Looks lovely. Seems like one of those games that's good at snagging the interest of those who aren't really interested in the usual games. Very much reminds me of Brothers....
 
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Thanks! I'll make sure to check it out!
 
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