Thomas Was Alone features half-a-dozen or so colored parallelograms moving laterally on a 2D background. It sounds simple, doesn’t it? But there’s much more to this clever platformer than you’ll notice at first blush. Clever puzzles and intricate level design are one part of it, but another is the surprisingly deep storyline and characterization – by the end of Thomas Was Alone, you’ll find yourself caring an inordinate amount for your little orange rectangles and blue squares.
True to its name, the titular Thomas does start out alone. His red, rectangular body is actually a representation of the A.I. subroutine that he is. He lives, like many other subroutines, in a much larger electronic world, but Thomas wants to get out. Something compels him to move forward and seek greater things.
Your goal is to maneuver Thomas to the end of the level he’s in by jumping, moving, and avoiding obstacles and threats. Don’t worry, though; Thomas doesn’t stay alone forever. You’ll soon encounter John, a much bigger rectangle with a very high jump, and Clair, a square with the ability to float on fluids – and delusions of grandeur because of it. They meet other A.I. subroutines on their way to the game’s finale, each with his or her own unique abilities and personality.
The key to the game’s puzzles comes from using each A.I.’s unique powers in conjunction with the others’ to overcome seemingly impossible puzzles. A tough trick is that every A.I. must separately exit the level through a specific gate through which only it will fit. That means that as you progress, you must be sure not to place an A.I. in a position where it can exit and leave the others trapped in the level. This little wrinkle turns seemingly straightforward platforming maps into brain-busters.
It’s no wonder, then, that Thomas Was Alone was one of the most critically acclaimed independent games of 2012, and continues to receive praise for its clever design. But you will also appreciate its wonderfully minimalist soundtrack – award-worthy in its own right – which is a perfect accompaniment to the story. Even more effective, however, is the game’s narration by actor Danny Wallace, which perfectly walks the line between humorous, endearing, and vaguely ominous throughout the entire game.
Available now for Xbox One, Thomas Was Alone is well worth the price of admission for puzzle-platformer fans – and it may surprise you as one of Xbox One’s most unlikely candidates for best writing of the year.