Dec 7, 2014

[REVIEW] Thomas Was Alone by @MikeBithell

GAME TITLE: "Thomas Was Alone"
DEVELOPER:  @MikeBithell
PLAYED ON:  Playstation 4
RATING:          9/10

So I have a friend who, when it comes to games, he only can bring himself to enjoy it if it's one of these AAA big blockbuster type games.  He's seriously limited in what he seems to enjoy.  He doesn't like RPG's, he doesn't like games like LittleBigPlanet he doesn't like fighting games (Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, etc), and he sure doesn't seem to like smaller indie games either.  He's mostly a shooter type gamer, with the occasional 3rd person action game player.

That's it, that's all.  That's sad.

The sad thing is, is that he's missed out on some fantastic games because he can't wrap his brain around the idea that they could be good.  I'm not completely averse to this way of thinking, unfortunately, as I despise the rash of 8/16 bit type games that are flooding the PS4 such as Towerfall Ascension, Hotline Miami, etc.  I hate them with a passion and cannot bring myself to play them more than a few minutes.

Perhaps my brain has moved on past those retro style games, much like my friend has moved on from damn near everything.  I dunno, but hey, we like what we like, no?

The thing is, though, we all have these little quirks in our personalities.  No one out there likes every type of game, and there are many who just refuse to even try.  I hate horror games. I won't play them.  Not because I'm scared, but it's just not my thing.  Resident Evil, The Evil Within, ...other games with "evil" in the title, I just ...not my thing.  These could be the most brilliant games ever, and I'll never find out.

So while I criticize my friend for not liking "little people" games, as he dismissively refers to things like LittleBigPlanet or Braid or whatever (referring to the size of the characters you play), I'm not that much better.

And I think that all it takes to reinforce how stupid that mentality is, is for a game like Thomas Was Alone to come along and just kind of slap you in the face and tell you to snap out of it.  Thomas Was Alone is an indie title that is available on the Playstation Network (Crossbuy with PS3/4/Vita), the Xbox Live store and Steam. And despite this being free on the Playstation Plus in the past, I never really paid it any mind. To be honest, while I am a massive supporter of indie artists, and games, as I mentioned before I despise the influx of retro style 8/16 bit looking games, I would have never played this game if it wasn't free.

I mistakenly assumed this was one of those "bit" games (the dev's name is Mike BIThell, for pete's sake), and just never gave it a chance.  So I was bored the other day and despite having a backlog of close to 10 AAA releases that I've either not started or only barely gotten into it, I saw this on my PS4 and decided to give it a shot.

Two days later I had finished it and was blown away by it.  The graphics are not going to yank awards away from Naughty Dog anytime soon, but as far as indie games go, this was damn near perfect. The "minimalist" visual nature of the game suited it well, for the story that was being told.  The narration by Danny Wallace of Bithell's excellent story, was fantastic and Wallace rightfully won an award for the narration.

As you play this, you get sucked into the story being told, and the combination of Wallace's entertaining, and often funny performance, and the amazing score by David Housden really creates a very calm and serene experience.  Which is really appreciated, as some of the gameplay can be infuriatingly frustrating.

There are numerous sections, particularly in the DLC, that require you to have impeccable timing and excellent hand/eye coordination, two things that I sorely lack.  This can lead to instances where you have to really either time things perfectly as you attempt to slide your character into a space with almost a zero margin of error allowed, as illustrated below in some game footage that I uploaded.  Note the character has a "jetpack" that allows it to fly around.  You have to navigate the maze, some parts which have spikes on the roof or floor, which means you have a tiny bit of room that's barely bigger than your character.

This can (and most assuredly will) lead to numerous deaths.  The silver lining is that usually these sections of the games happen at the save points, so when you die you're not sent all the way back to the beginning.  There are a few levels that are not very long, so there no save points, meaning you mess up, you start over, but despite the frustrating aspects to some of these levels, they are achievable.  The fact that I (who is someone who typically is not good at these types of games) beat the game, means most people may not have that much of a problem outside a few areas.

Another aspect to Danny Wallace's performance I liked was his enunciation on specific words and syllables.  It's a very animated performance, and there were certain words (such as a level where he suddenly got excited on the word "clouds") that made me smile.  The overall brilliant performance brought to mind Stephen Fry's wonderful narration to the LittleBigPlanet series.

In fact, this game reminded me of LittleBigPlanet quite a lot.  While the games are very different visually, the overall tone and vibe to the game and the general peacefulness and cheeriness of the game really did bring to mind MediaMolecule's fantastic series.   And it maintained that emotional grip throughout up to the end.  Another similar game in that sense is the excellent indie title "Braid", which is maybe one of my top 5 indie games I've ever played.

I can not recommend this game enough, if you have not played it.  You really should give it a try, whether it is on the Playstation Network (with CrossBuy w/PS3/PS4/PsVita), or via Steam or whatever console you own.  This is the first thing I have seen from creator Mike Bithell, but I am definitely on the lookout for his next game, which is called "Volume".

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