I love Thomas Was Alone. It’s in my top ten favourite games of all time. The very first time I played it a few years ago is imprinted in my memory and I still listen to its stellar soundtrack regularly. Hell, I even own it on vinyl.
Every couple of months I find myself going back to it. Be it on Xbox or on mobile and each time the experience is just as great as it was before. It’s simply the perfect example of minimalist gaming done well. Where a story proves to be more important than anything else. Life and personality inserted into characters in a way that should never have been possible. A narrator speaking for all characters and doing such a great job, a Bafta was awarded. Where the soundtrack is as much as part of the experience as the actual gameplay.
This is Thomas Was Alone and I think it is one of the best games ever made.
So, with that in mind, there is some bias when it comes to reviewing the newly released Nintendo Switch version. I mean, all they had to do was release it exactly as it was when it first came out and it would be pretty much perfect.
A puzzle/platformer created by Mike Bithell with narration by Danny Wallace and music by David Housden. It was first released back in 2012 but to date has appeared on almost every major platform.
The story surrounds out of control AI entities that are represented by rectangle shapes of varying colours. The very first we meet being Thomas whose very first thought is that he is alone.
Across 100 levels that are spilt into 10 chapters, more AI will be introduced such as the moody and unfriendly Chris or self-proclaimed ‘superhero’ Claire. Each has their own defined skill and personality. For example, John is tall and thin but can jump very high and James, who falls upwards rather than downwards. All their skills will need to be combined to complete levels where the goal is to get all the AI to the exit portals.
Along the way they will discover just what their purpose is, just what it means and how they can change the entire world through their actions. Even writing it, gives me goosebumps. I can hear Danny Wallace’s impeccable narration detailing the wonder and excitement of Thomas as he experiences the internet for the very first time. 12 seconds of upload time but enough for him to know what he needs to do.
Utterly wonderful stuff and gameplay is unchanged on the Switch. Characters move freely and smoothly (mostly – I’ll explain an issue there in a bit), switching between characters is straight-forward, jumping and puzzle solving is free-flowing, and as fun as it possibly could be. There are some difficulty spikes, but this is not an overtly challenging game with easy restarts and checkpoints during some of the longer sections and puzzles.
The simple visuals fit the Switch perfectly be it on a big TV or playing it in handheld mode. I didn’t notice any real difference playing it either way. The same with the sound, David Housden’s wonderful soundtrack sounds perfect no matter how it is played.
In addition to the base game, this version also comes pre-packed with the short expansion Benjamin’s Flight. An extra set of levels set before the events that involve Thomas and the gang. There’s also a commentary track where creator Mike Bithell talks through the game. All very nice bonuses and icing on this pretty damn delicious cake.
So… 10/10 right? Well, no. No matter my love for this game it does have a few faults that stop it reaching that vaulted score. Minor stuff that is easy to overlook and present in all versions, except one that appeared to be a specific issue with the Switch version.
That issue surrounds characters sticking to platform edges and in one case, getting stuck completely requiring a restart of the level. Annoying but not game-breaking stuff. Then we have the more general issues such as the repetition of tasks (stair jumping becomes monotonous) and very easy final section of the game. Present in all versions we have played.
These really are minor problems though. Thomas Was Alone is still a phenomenal game nearly a decade after its release. If you’ve never played it before and you have a Switch, make sure you do now.
Thomas Was Alone
The Final Score - 9/10