A small spoiler right up front, but Thomas is actually not alone for very long in Thomas Was Alone. Sorry, I know. You probably didn’t see that coming, and now your world is crumbling down. Wait, here’s a few more juicy tidbits: his full name is Thomas-AT-23-6-12, he is a red rectangle, and he is searching for companionship. Just dropping knowledge bombs over here like boom, boom, boom.
As a puzzle platformer, Thomas Was Alone is pretty standard stuff. Maybe even a bit basic in the early levels. Despite being a simple geometric shape, you can jump to climb up and across platforms, with the end goal always trying to reach a shape-specific door somewhere near the end of the level. As you progress, Thomas meets some other shapely friends, like Chris, an cynical orange square, and John, a tall yellow stick-shape. I’ve met a couple more shapes too, but I won’t spoil them all, especially if there are more to come. Basically, the different shapes can jump at varying levels of height, and you have to use Thomas and his friends cooperatively to get over some platforms and hit those doors up. That seems to be the meat the puzzles, unfortunately, and the early levels are beyond easy, finishable in mere seconds.
What takes Thomas Was Alone above its lackluster gameplay mechanics is Danny Wallace, the game’s narrator. He also helped the game earn a BAFTA Games Award. He tells the story of each shape created by a company called Artificial Life Solutions, which experiments on artificial intelligences, and really gives them life, despite them being, without a doubt, geometric shapes with the ability to jump. It also helps that his British accent is calm and commanding, reminding me of the narrator in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It really does help make the somewhat mindless, at times, platforming all the more enjoyable.
All that said, I’ve run into a hardware problem, one that is growing more frustrating every day. I prefer to play platformers with a controller; hush now, it’s how I grew up with them, bouncing Bubsy, Mario, and Sonic to and fro with the push of a button rather than the click of the mouse. I also find using a d-pad or analog stick provides better precision when timing jumps and landings. Your mileage may vary. However, when I plug in my Xbox 360 controller into my laptop to play some Thomas Was Alone, the controller only seems to work 20% of the time. I’ve found restarting the game with the controller still plugged in to work every now and then. But not consistently. And I refuse to play any other way. I do not believe my controller is on the fritz, as it works fine on the Xbox 360, and I was able to load up Super Meat Boy through Steam and start jumping from wall to wall with no problems. Not sure what the deal is, and the game does support controllers, but it’s been touch and go.
I hope I can get this controller stuff figured out, as I’d like to see Thomas Was Alone to the end. Not to see if the puzzles change much, but I want to know what becomes of these shapes. These square and rectangles that have opinions and qualities and desires. That probably sounds crazy, I know, but that’s just how good of a job Wallace does narrating them. Oh, and I do wish the game had Steam trading cards.