Without reaching beyond the surface, Thomas Was Alone is simply a minimalistic puzzle platformer. Originally released in July 2011 on the PC and Mac, Mike Bithell along with Bossa Studios have brought this indie hit to the PS3 and the PS Vita, featuring the “Cross-Buy” feature. In Thomas Was Alone, as with any platformer, the mantra is ‘up and to the right’. It’s such a simple concept, but with the help of a multitude of polygonal friends, and narrator Danny Wallace, this minimalist approach to your run of the mill platformer becomes a thought-provoking, life affirming, wonderful lesson on friendship, love, and trust.
You begin the game playing as Thomas. Thomas is a small, orange colored rectangle who is able to jump a reasonable height, and loves to explore the world around him. He is indeed alone, but not for long. Soon after, another four-sided cohort joins the mix. Chris, a small yellow square, is a bit on the broader side, and can’t jump quite as high as Thomas. Meeting every one of the seven-or-so squares and rectangles in this tale are truly what made it so special for me. They all have their own special abilities, thus making each of them an asset to solving puzzles and persevering through levels. Some of them express their insecurities, yet quickly realize that they are needed by their friends. The goal of each level is to fill the white outline at the end of each level with the appropriate dimensions. So as to not spoil, I’m refraining from introducing you to any other characters — it needs to be experienced on a more personal level, not through a review.
Some of the main themes in this game are teamwork, and dependence. There are cases when Thomas simply can’t make a jump, yet with Chris’s help, Thomas is able to climb on Chris, helping him get just a small amount higher, thus reaching his goal. You can play as up to seven of these squares simultaneously, cycling them with the L1 and R1 buttons, becoming somewhat of a singular cooperative experience. Occasionally certain polygons must reach their goals first, as others won’t be able to fit trying to pass them, or won’t be able to jump high enough to leap over them. Sometimes, you’ll have to time it just right so that everyone is in the white outlines at the same time. No matter what, there isn’t one case where any shape will not help, or be helped by another to finish the level successfully. It’s such a simple concept, but this constant theme is a beautiful reinforcement of how we, in life, need others to survive. Sometimes we will be able to get through situations on our own, as Thomas was able to at the beginning of the game, but there are moments when the ones closest to you are who you need the most to reach your goals.
All of this takes place in a computer mainframe, warranting a very simple, and of course, minimalistic design. The platforms are lines, and the backgrounds are normally one color, adorning a few polygonal and graphical flashes. The soundtrack is a wonderfully put together accompaniment to the story by David Housden. The production as a whole is very minimalistic, but it works well, creating a sleek, and welcoming environment.
The entire experience clocks in at about 3 hours, but I don’t think any experience as special as Thomas Was Alone should be quantified by time. The emotional fulfillment and beautiful message you will attain from playing this game far outweighs a 30 hour experience with another “grindy” RPG or online first person shooter. For $10, it’s well worth the loss of your wallet’s girth. You get the PS3 and PS Vita version, plus commentary from Mike Bithell while you play, if you so choose. It’s a complete package at a fair price. I will say, though, the ending left me a bit bewildered, as it was a bit abrupt.
In Thomas Was Alone, the simple concept of up and to the right becomes so much more. Learning more about each of these squares and rectangles featured in the game will keep you playing through to the end, smiling ear to ear the whole way there. In playing, you’ll probably think of the ones in your life who help you reach your own white outline, and get you where you need to be. If you’ve read up until now, it should go without saying, you need to play Thomas Was Alone.
[+Intricate singularly cooperative puzzles][+Great Characters][+Excellent narration][+Minimalist design is sleek, and effective][-Ending is a bit abrupt]