Thursday, May 2, 2013

Oh, I Haven't Talked About Thomas Was Alone

In my frantic searchings tonight for something, anything that I could feasibly talk about that wasn't bitching about things, I found that there was no real note-worthy news - none that I care about enough, rather - and I spent most of my day out and about and napping, so there wasn't much there.  Except that I had a dream about Drakengard 3 which was awesome and which should surprise absolutely nobody.  Regardless of that, what finally hit my mind as I scanned about the bubbles on my Vita, wondering if there was anything I'd played and not yet spoken of, was that I had done just that indeed.  I purchased Thomas Was Alone the day it was released and spoke not a single word of it beyond mentioning that I had purchased it on Twitter.  Though, there is sort of a reason for that.

In truth, I don't know what there really is -to- say about Thomas Was Alone.  It's certainly a little different than anything I've played before, but I'm not quite sure that's necessarily a good thing.

At it's core, Thomas Was Alone is billed as a Puzzle-Platformer and I guess that's about as apt as you're going to get, but it doesn't properly express the full-range of what the game offers.  Instead, each and every single level of the game presents you with a theory, an execution of different ideas with the characters you have access to, and as such, it sort of limits just how you can complete a level.  Every character is limited in such a way that you can really -only- get them from Point A to Point B by doing Steps 1, 2 and 3.  For instance, if you need to get Chris, the small orange block who hates everyone except Laura, anywhere then you have to hope you have Thomas and John (with a gap for John to drop down a little in) or Claire as well, perhaps even Sarah.  Or at least Laura to bounce him.  Because Chris can only jump so high and he often needs to get to places that Thomas, John, and Sarah can get to rather easily thanks to their ability to jump a decent height.

Yet, therein lies something that I dare say might be considered brilliant with Thomas Was Alone.  Every single character in it is a certain shape and a certain color, yet that's about all you get to know about them.  They don't have their own voice, but rather they are characterized by the narrator who has quite a few lines for, again, each and every single level of the game.  It's....different, to say the least, and I have to say that while it does wonders for making you remember the characters, despite them being anything -but- characters, it has other side-effects.  Because of the rather short level design and the narration that goes...generally throughout the level, every level feels like it's its own tutorial, like all of these levels are building towards something where all these skills you've accrued will go to worth, rather than just being used in an expeditional sense.  It's still possible that it might - I haven't beaten the game after all - but I'm at least close to the end, I know that much, and yet I don't feel like anything's actually 'built', despite there being a definite flow of the narrative.

It's contradictory and creates a sense of unease that I have about the whole game.  I haven't encountered a level that has been particularly taxing or 'luck-based' as I often feel Puzzle games end up relying on, which should be a good thing.  Yet, perhaps it lacks something because of that.  Or perhaps it simply lacks something that is genuinely creative and smart enough that it transcends what I've experienced so far.  That's not to say it hasn't offered something wonderful in a sense - the soothing voice of the narrator of the game is almost reason enough to continue playing it alone.  And the way it's built around that, about characterizing the squares and rectangles in the game that are otherwise just squares and rectangles makes it quite enjoyable.  But the gameplay doesn't match the charm, and that's rather unfortunate since if it did, it'd truly be a wonderful little game indeed.

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