Thomas Was Alone was the first game by Mike Bithell. It looks like a simplistic platformer where the player just moves simple geometric shapes around and the second they reach an outline of that shape the level is over, and that actually is pretty much it.
But that simplistic description, while truthful misses so much of why Thomas Was Alone is a major game. The obvious place is the story, and the meaning of the title, which is just the opening words of an amazing narration. The story begins with Thomas being alone and looking for friends, and from there the player will run into multiple different shapes to join Thomas on an adventure through the nameless space.
The game also brings in a strange framing device of developers working on AI who accidentally named the various shapes that are the main characters of the game. This works far better than I think anyone would expect. Taking a boring rectangle and just calling him Thomas gives him a little life.
Yet, somehow Thomas Was Alone creates multiple characters, each with different personalities, and a remarkable story including a rivalry between characters. More than a few points will get the player invested in the characters and wanting to see more, especially the relationship between Chris and Laura, and her “secret”.
Studios pay millions of dollars and work on huge stories that take tens of hours to tell, and yet Thomas Was Alone evokes far more emotion in a few minutes than many studios can produce over hours with far more detailed characters.
Much of this can be attributed to David Wallace who provides a very compelling narration that assists the story and makes the player want to know more, but yet it’s the story that is able to effortlessly evoke important emotions making people care about simple geometric shapes in ways that shouldn’t be possible.
With that said, the graphics are a bit too simplistic, yet I think the simplicity only assists the story. I actually would not want a more detailed game, as I think the beauty and brilliance of Thomas Was Alone are showing how well the story is delivered without relying on more than a few shapes and colors.
Some people will want more from the graphics but much of Thomas Was Alone’s graphics are about minimalism and attempting this with anything else probably would miss out on the charm of the experience.
The gameplay of Thomas Was Alone is rather simple, each geometric shape has a name and also an ability. Thomas is average in most things, however many of the other shapes have different abilities, such a small square which is unable to jump high but can duck into passages that stop Thomas. The tall shape can jump exceptionally high, and Laura… well let’s just say her secret comes out. Curious? Exactly. I’ve made you interested in a character with just her name.
Most of the puzzles in Thomas was Alone are rather simplistic, with the moves necessary to beat the levels usually just about the order of operations at times. There are a-ha moments, but most of the time it’s just about positioning the shapes in the right order to do something the player wants.
Thomas Was Alone does have a few pieces to be aware of. The gameplay and graphics are minimalist, so if you’re looking for a deep gameplay loop you won’t find it here, this is an interactive story, more than a traditional game.
Thomas Was Alone is also short taking less than four hours to complete, though that is a very enjoyable four hours.
But none of that ruins what Thomas Was Alone is trying to do and I would argue it succeeds quite well at that. This is actually my second time playing the game, and I have adored this game for six years since I originally played it. Replaying it now reminds me why it’s so worthy of praise. This is a timeless game.
I’m going to award Thomas Was Alone an arbitrary
Why not a 10? Which feature held it back? To be honest I don’t know. Thomas Was Alone is a masterpiece, I think almost every part of it is perfection and I could not change a piece. I would not make it a minute longer or shorter. I would not try to change the gameplay or graphics, and I think 10 dollars is a perfectly reasonable price. It’s also probably the best example of perfect storytelling in a video game.
There is just sadly something intangible about the game that keeps me from awarding it a perfect score. Yet I highly recommend this game to every player. Experiencing the way it crafts its story is worth the price of admission alone, and this is one of the greatest indie titles of all time in my book.
If you enjoyed this review and want to see more from me, including more in-depth reviews of select games, check out my youtube channel at youtube.com/c/KinglinkReviews.