Steam on Shuffle: Thomas Was Alone
All hail the RNG and praise be unto him. The infinite wisdom of the shuffle demands I play the minimalist platform puzzle Thomas Was Alone. Somehow calling it minimalist feel like an overstatement, the whole cast of characters are a bunch of colored rectangles. Weird, but fuck it. There’s a mellow chiptune soundtrack to compliment our bouncy box friends so it somehow just works.
Start up and we have our little buddy Thomas, an artificial intelligence that has gained sentience and is currently feeling awfully lonely. Poor little guy. The game open with the standard tutorial level to teach the extreme complex mechanics of pressing the right arrow to go… SPOILER… right! As annoying as most of these slap you in the face with the obvious tutorials are, this one isn’t half bad. Yeah you have prompts popping up telling you how to jump, but it is also narrated with witty voice acting as if our boy Tom is really just discovering these most basic of tasks for the first time. Instead of a few bullshit prompts each level organically introduces the new mechanics. Learning can be fun. Who woulda thunk?
Game play is simple and leans far more towards the platforming side than puzzles. Move the little dude left and right, add the occasional jump, and get to the finish line. As the story progresses lonely little Thomas makes a few new friends each having their own strengths and weaknesses. Switching control between them lets our new found friends tackle more complex stages. Using the tall guy as a step to get a boost to a higher ledge to hit a button and get the team to the end together. Simple and allows for gradual increase in puzzle difficulty and holy fuck is it monotonous. Use one character to get to the other end of the stage then switch off and do it again, line up your team like a staircase to get your shortest buddy up a ledge, then the others can hop up to do it another 3 times. Fuck that shit, fuck new found friendship, Thomas should have stayed alone.
The experience is even more frustrating due to clunky controls. This is by no means some high speed precision platformer but when I press jump, I expect to see a little rectangle go flying through the air. Add to that, an extremely annoying issue when not just using a game pad, but making the unforgivable mistake of even having one plugged in, which causes characters to randomly slide across the screen. Imagine if you will, staggering 3 characters to form steps to get up a ledge, repeat 3 times, and once at the top the shortest of the little fuckers goes sliding all the way back to the bottom because some ghost input told him it would be a good idea. Kills all god damned motivation right there. At that point, every time I unlock a new so called companion I would find myself fantasizing of little rectangle guns to murder the whole lot with.
I have never turned on a game so quickly before. Over the course of one level the quirky, good-natured fun turned to a seething rage. I know I’m intended to feel some kind of connection with these cute little polygon buddies and their individual personalities, but I just can’t. Especially Chris. Fuck Chris, stubby bastard with his short jumping bullshit. That little shit is the source of half my hatred. Half way through the game characters start getting picked off to be rescued at a later stage and I was ecstatic to be rid of that cocky little prick. I’m sure there’s some Freudian self-loathing meaning in there somewhere but I ain’t got time for none of that book learning mumbo jumbo.
Later stages get better as these scumboxs die off. A few new characters are introduced with mechanics that don’t boil down to “I jump gooder than that guy”. It’s a shame it takes so long to get there. The narrative is interesting and attempts to poke at your emotions with tales of friendship and love, but the gameplay gets so far in the way that I can’t be bother to care.
It’s all about the story. That’s what I keep hearing. Well if you wanted me to enjoy the story then playing the game shouldn’t make me want to cause physical harm to all things containing right angles. Having a whole cast of various sized rectangles is fine. I don’t hold indie games to some standard of ultra realistic art, however if you’re going to use the most minimal of art style to pull me in and enjoy what is admittedly a charming and well voiced story then the game itself, the thing I’m playing to experience this world, needs to be rock solid and engaging. Thomas Was Alone falls flat in that regard. Or maybe I’m just too much of a heartless prick to care. No can’t be that. I blame Chris. Fuck that guy.