For never was a story of wore woe than this of these little sentient AI squares trying to find their place in the big, wide universe.
Replay value, or replayability if you really want to use the word, is much prized amongst the gaming community. The ability to go back to a game and gain a different experience or a new perspective is much prized and something I have talked about previously. Perhaps it is because a game is an interactive experience, you wouldn’t demand replay value in a film after all. But in part it is about the story. When the story is such a big part of the game it’s difficult to have that same experience ever again.
Thomas Was Alone is a puzzle platformer set in the inner workings of a computer where you start off controlling a little sentient square by the name of Thomas who is searching for friends and freedom. The further you get into the game the more you meet of squares of different colours, each with their own personality and special abilities. Not to provide any spoilers but the game soon turns into a adventure with a monster, romance, and a prophet. All narrated to you while you bounce little squares around.
The gameplay is quite simple, the different squares have different properties and jump heights and you must use them together to get them from one side of the level to the other (up and to the right…). The puzzles are all well designed but don’t offer huge challenge to those already well versed in puzzle gaming.
But the main property that makes Thomas Was Alone such a fun experience is the story. Narration is, I feel, oft underused in games despite its use as a literary tool. It could be argued that it creates a certain disconnect between the gamer and the game but can anyone really say they felt disconnected from Bastion because of the narration? I think the narration, and the soundtrack, really made that game. It works really well in Thomas Was Alone, to the point where you can feel an emotional connection to a coloured square.
The problem with Thomas Was Alone, referring to what I said in the beginning, is that there isn’t much in the way of replay value. The platforming is fun and the puzzles entertaining but not the sort you can spend hours on, but to be honest I don’t have a problem with it. I would still recommend it because it is an experience in story-telling that is unlike any other. It is a real credit to the game that you can empathise with coloured squares that don’t talk or even have any features on them.
Like the aforementioned Bastion the game also has an excellent soundtrack that really contributes to the vague serenity of the game, even in the more dramatic moments. It does a great job of keeping this surreal atmosphere to the game.
I have stated before that replaying a story is a hard thing to do. You can never conjure up the same experience when you learn everything for the first time unless you have forgotten it completely. So how you tell that story is very important. Many games are very simplistic in storytelling style, you play a character, sometimes a group of characters, and proceed through the story from start to finish. So telling the story in a different way can make a fun little game into more of an experience and this is Thomas Was Alone’s greatest triumph.
It’s fun, it’s unusual, it’s not very expensive, and it provides an interesting look in styles of storytelling. I may not have played it to death but I feel that I gained a great deal from a single playthrough. One final note, I really want a Team Jump t-shirt.