Thomas Was Alone is a puzzle-laced platforming game that relies heavily on the basic, artistic styles of its characters. The personalities that reside in the game exist within simply colored and shaped rectangles that are packed with individuality despite the lack of unique aesthetic properties. With such a simplistic design, Thomas Was Alone is able to explore a new way of story telling that relates to video game players in personal ways. It does this by taking basic game mechanics such as jumping, falling, and movement and giving each action a purpose.
For example: In one of the early levels of the game, the player is introduced to jumping. Rather than simply stating “press X to jump”, the game instead tells of a great inverted fall mystery that Thomas, the game’s main character, was able to solve, which makes him feel very good about himself. Paying attention to the boredom that comes along with such mundane tutorials in games today and offering a story behind the simple tasks is something that really makes this game shine with purpose.
Each encounter of typical actions gives the game a chance to portray meaning in everything that the characters do, and helps shape the world around them into a place of learning and purpose. By analyzing their surroundings and trying to make sense of what is going on, the characters are able to give plenty of life lessons that are applicable to the player. Rather than accepting the fact that we will be introduced to many of the same things in life, we should make meaning and purpose for all of our life experiences.
The characters are able to give plenty of life lessons that are applicable to the player.
As the game progresses, there is an increasing amount of relations to be made with the player. Once comfortable with the new mechanics, Thomas feels as though the world evolves in order to bring new challenges his way. Rather than feeling as if the world was coming down around him with forced hardships, Thomas decides that the world is training him, creating new strengths. This, again, is an optimistic view of real life that the developer wanted to portray and encourage.
With the introduction of new characters, TWA shows many of the unhealthy habits that we as people partake in. Comparisons are made between the rectangular persona in the spotlight to the others that share the same levels, and regardless of circumstance, they must work together in order to move on and progress to the next area. The enclosed world forcefully causes teamwork and brings the characters closer to one another, and because of this, most of them change for the better.
A jock is humbled. A superhero shares the glory. A loner finds love. Fears are overcome. A leader passes leadership. An outcast becomes part of the pack.
All of these transformations extend again to a deeper meaning and give the implication that we should all be aware of these properties that are defining the characters, because they also define us. A glance in the mirror will most likely cause the player to be cast into one of the rectangle’s roles, and give us courage to follow in the footsteps of change.
We should all be aware of these properties that are defining the characters, because they also define us.
Thomas Was Alone also offers us the chance to truly understand sacrifice. Without spoiling anything, there is definitely a lesson to be learned there as well.
The level design in the game does a fantastic job at combining with the deep narratives that are given to help bring all of these metaphors to deliverance. “Up and to the left” is an obvious quote found numerous times in the game to show that that is the common sense of progression in a game world, and there are a few instances where the heroes use this to help drive them forward. They know their purpose after dealing with so many levels, and when there aren’t any new answers for questions given, they are driven by the “up and to the left” mentality that implies a constant forward action must be taken. We as people should always remember to go up and to the left in times of confusion.
The overall story of Thomas Was Alone is an incredible journey that offers an insane amount of relations to be made with the player. Taking simple game mechanics and giving them purpose helps create characters that are hard to let go of after the game ends. Combined with a strong and inspirational soundtrack, very proper and appropriate level design, and a few pop-culture references, the overall game is an impactful experience to say the least.
If you liked these article, please check out our interview with David Housden, the man behind the incredible soundtrack for Thomas Was Alone.