Thomas Was Alone | Gaming reviews, news & interviews
Thomas Was Alone
An avant-garde bedtime story that turns the 2D into 3
Thomas was alone. And then, he wasn’t. As story-time opening lines go, this one is on a par with "once upon a time" in its simplicity. Simplicity, however, can be misleading. Our eponymous hero Thomas may in fact look like a simple red rectangle with the ability to move and jump, but thanks to a mysterious "event" within the computer programme he is part of, he has also been imbued with sentience. And he is not alone.
Described by creator Mike Bithell as a minimalist game about friendship and jumping and floating and bouncing and anti-gravity, the aim of this avant-garde game is to manoeuvre all of your shapes through each level and into their own specific portals. You do this by manipulating the shapes’ varying abilities, using them to help the others out. But this is no glorified game of Tetris, and these are no ordinary shapes.
As a platform game it is pleasantly simple and satisfyingly complex
From the witty bedtime-story narration of one Danny Wallace, we are able to glean clues as to the personalities of these newly formed AI entities, and as a result the shapes come to life. Whereas Thomas the red rectangle is a curious adventurer, the small orange square named Chris is an unpleasant and impatient git. The tall thin yellow rectangle called John is a psychopath who can only mimic emotions to get what he wants, while Claire the enormous blue square is paranoid about her weight and suspects she is just being used by her companions as a convenient boat.
As you move the shapes through the levels, you can almost hear them tutting to themselves as one falls off a ledge, or huffing and puffing as they jump on top of each other, or letting out a joyous yell as they make a great leap across a spiky pit of doom. And it is this encouragement to emotionally engage with abstract geometric shapes which elevates the game into the realms of the avant-garde. In the same way that Hans Richter’s Rhythmus 21 attributed musical rhythms to abstract shapes, this game attributes emotions.
As a platform game it is pleasantly simple and satisfyingly complex, and the format is kept fresh as the pressing of switches causes the levels to alter and unfold around and beneath you and your angsty companions. The music, provided by David Housden, adds to the dreamy, bedtime-story feel of the narration, and also heightens the sense of loneliness of these characters as they journey together through the expanse of the matrix and into the dangers that await. They may be one-dimensional, but this brave fellowship of quadrilaterals on a quest for greatness is anything but square.
- Developed and published by Mike Bithell; Platform: PC, Mac
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