I don’t write reviews, it’s not my job. In fact, it’s the exact opposite of my job, if anything.
But I’m writing a review anyway because I’m a bit scared that Thomas Was Alone is going to slip through the net. Which would be a shame because, and hold on to your trousers as there’s a little bit of a shock coming: BAM, it’s the best indie game I’ve played all year.
It kind of reminds me of Fez and Portal. It’s an extremely simple little puzzle-platformer about getting some blocks of differing size, shape, density and abilities into appropriately-shaped doors to finish the level.
It’s got that Portal thing of introducing you to new concepts slowly, so you’re already deft and adept at them by the time they’ve become bewilderingly complicated. You feel smart for solving things before you think you’re supposed to. Which means it’s not a hard game, but it’s consistently-entertaining and a fun challenge in parts.
But most of all: oh my, the script. It’s such a charmingly-written, funny and intensely personal little jaunt you can’t help but feel this is what indie games are all about. This is why indie games work, because you’re getting an insight into Mike The Developer himself, you’re closer to him as a result of playing his game, and that’s a complete joy.
Months ago, I moaned to Mike about his choice of narrator as Danny Wallace. I thought it was a problem, basically because Danny’s not an actor, and because so many people hate him for playing that British prick everyone hates in the Assassin’s Creed games. But I’m happy to admit, I was kind of wrong. The ‘not an actor’ thing does still irk, sometimes, but by-and-large it works well, with the voice over coming across very Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, with a swift detour via PlaySchool.
Mike’s excellent script is performed so well that the little nuggets of narration serve as a reward for solving the puzzles. You push on mainly because you want to hear more of the story, more jokes, more words that make you giggle.
The characters in Thomas Was Alone, characters who are nothing more than coloured rectangles, are brought to life with a few lines of narration and a quirky jumping animation. It’s bewildering and impressive that I feel more attached these well-rounded quadrangles than I do most AAA game characters.
Couple all that with a game that regularly introduces new concepts, new mechanics, and looks-and-sounds gorgeous, and it’s not hard to see why it’s one of the top indie games of the year.
It’s not perfect. Part of the problem is I don’t think Unity is really the best fit for a 2D platformer, which means it’s sometimes a bit fiddly to control, and therefore not quite as tactile as screenshots suggest… but that doesn’t really matter. It’s entirely forgiveable because everything else is so utterly, utterly brillo.
Keep an eye on @MikeBithell, and make sure you’re on top of this one for when it comes out NEXT WEEK. Book next sunday afternoon off and devote it to lazily jaunting through Thomas Was Alone.