Thomas Was Alone is a simple indie puzzle platformer which features rectangles for characters. Each rectangle has different abilities like jump height, or being able to fit into certain openings that the others can't, or even acting as a bounce pad so that others can reach new heights. You switch between characters with L1/R1 and jump with the “x” button, so the bar to entry is pretty low (although selecting characters when you have more than four can get a bit cumbersome).
Every level has portals that each character has to reach, and they all have to be at their designated portal at the same time in order to progress. Most of the puzzles are fairly easy to figure out and just require a bit of skill to accomplish, but there are very few levels with any tension behind them as there are arguably no enemies and very few sections where time is of the essence. One definite flaw that even the developer mentions in the commentary for the game is that the puzzles get a bit stair-heavy at times, which just means repeating the same solution three times when you should only really be required it once.
With all that said, I actually adored my time with this deceptively simple little platformer, and that's all down to its presentational strengths. When I first saw videos of Thomas Was Alone I thought the concept of simple shapes with a robust storyline and narration behind them would be cute and good for a laugh, but what I found was so much better than that. I loved hearing about how the bounce pad Laura was scarred of meeting other shapes because they soon left her behind after making use of her ability, or Claire's depression which is caused how useless she is and then elation at her newly discovered abilities. It's really impressive how a simple piece of clever narration can put character into the otherwise characterless entities.
I quickly found myself playing simply for the story, just to find out what happened to these little quadrilaterals I'd become so attached to. The gameplay is enjoyable, sure, but the real driving force for me was hearing the next tidbit about Thomas or Chris. Pretty soon the storyline became more meaningful than just a series of random personal anecdotes from the characters and the seemingly random quotes at the beginning started to make sense. My gang of rectangles actually went through hardships and personal triumphs fit for a world-saving JRPG (albeit a really succinct one). I honestly don't think I've been this enamored with a game's story since To The Moon, but for totally different reasons.
As you might expect there isn't a lot one can say about the graphics of a game devoted to rectangles but there is an aesthetically pleasing lighting engine that adds ambiance to certain levels and there's no noticeable slowdown or graphical glitches. The score mostly consists of background music but it is always enjoyable when it does come to the forefront. The true star of the presentation is definitely the narrator, Danny Wallace. No silly voices for each character, just a third person talking about the inner feelings of our rectangular pals. Except for a few after-the-fact quotes he's the sole avatar of the game's storyline and he performs the role perfectly.
Thomas Was Alone isn't going to impress anyone with its two and a half hour playthrough time, but I certainly don't regret my purchase. For $10 you get the game on Vita and PlayStation 3 with a developer commentary which certainly adds replay value for those who become enamoured by the storyline. There are also smatterings of a collectibles here or there.
I think the fact that video games can still surprise me is what keeps me going in this industry. The idea that I can get emotionally attached enough to a rectangle to feel sad at its plight was totally unexpected. Thomas Was Alone is one of those games that some will love unashamedly while others will question why a game with so little platforming or puzzling challenge could ever be entertaining. But then that's probably for the best. Who wants to live in a world where we all enjoy the same things? That would mean no variety. So if you're like me and an interesting story can turn a pretty good game into a great game then Thomas Was Alone is your type of game.
This review is based on a downloaded copy of Thomas Was Alone for the PlayStation 3 and was also tested briefly on PSVita.