The PC version of this charming platformer passed us by when it was released last year, so when it arrived on PS Vita at the tail-end of last month, it seemed the perfect opportunity to see what it has to offer.
Thomas Was Alone has a couple of unique selling points. The most prominent is the narration by Danny Wallace, who does a great job in delivering the game's narrative. The other is the game's distinct aesthetic.
Thomas Was Alone is all about squares. Squares and rectangles. These quadrilaterals are newly sentient AIs, moving around a digital world, self-aware after an incident on their server. Visually it's a simple look, there's not a lot going on to tax the eyes. The lines are clean and crisp, the colours clear and vibrant. Environments are different shades of grey, green and blue, with black backgrounds surrounding each. Each coloured shape moves around the short levels looking for the portals that will take them to the next challenge.
There are nine levels, each with around nine stages. Each new level introduces a new character, and often there are multiple characters in each stage. Where more than one square features in a stage, each has a portal that they must be aligned with in order for all to progress simultaneously. Cycling through each character is simple, a tap on the shoulder buttons sends you through them in order.
Each four-sided character has a different range of movements and abilities. Thomas, the little red block that joins us right at the start, has a middling jump distance, both horizontally and vertically. As other characters are introduced, so to are different properties. Some can jump further, one can float, one can double jump.
Most of the puzzles are relatively straight forward, and often all you need to do is utilise each block to help others move across the stages, whether by making a bridge across water, or by providing an additional surface so squares with limited jumps can reach higher platforms.
For the most part, it's not particularly difficult. A couple of levels will have you scratching your head for a short while, but there's nothing methodical thinking won't get you through. When the grey matter isn't being gently tested, it's all about platforming. In these levels you must navigate between different surfaces, activating pressure pads that open up later sections. Generous checkpoints mean that you won't have to go back too far when you do make a mistake, though many stages will be completed at the first time of asking.
That's not to say that it's all a walk in the park. Later on, when Newtonian physics are reversed, there are a couple of stages that'll require a few retries. In fact, we had most trouble with some of the stages in the middle of the game, but once these are conquered the pace picks back up and progress towards the game's ending is fairly straight forward.
In the latter stages, new quadrilaterals are introduced to replace the old, but rather than having the skills of the first characters we meet, we have to jump these new squares and rectangles through shaded areas that grant them the skills that we're already used to (such as floating, double jumping, reversing gravity, and providing a spring board that allows other characters to jump to even greater heights).
Wallace's though-provoking narration introduces each character, and provides context to their actions. Text accompanies each section of monologue, appearing on screen as it's delivered. Each quadrilateral has a motivation, and while these motivations have little direct impact on gameplay, the different stories and perspectives are charming and really add to the overall experience. Underpinning the narration is a lovely soundtrack by David Housden. The thoughtful plod of a piano is accompanied by digitally inspired soundbites, and soaring strings.
There's a warmth to Thomas Was Alone that you won't find in that many games. The narration is charmingly written and superbly delivered, and in many ways it's the highlight of the game. Jumping through the various stages is enjoyable, and while there is some challenge in the platforming, and couple of head scratching puzzles, it's never unsurmountable and relatively easy to complete; it shouldn't take you more than four or five hours. There's additional DLC for those seeking an prolonged experience, so if Mike Bithell's indie platformer warms the cockles of your heart, there's more content for you to get your teeth stuck into.