Thomas was alone is a unique puzzle game that really racks your brain and reaction skills during play, although it can also been seen as a little bit of a marmite game. If you look at the screenshots you'll either be confused to why these blocks are in a current generation game, or be interested and want to see more. Thomas is an independent game from the brain of Mike Bithell, and it's more of an exploration into what he can achieve instead of the next blockbuster to hit the highstreet shelves. With that said it has a very strong presence within the indie community and has coverage all over the internet, while also being featured at many events.
Originally Thomas was made in Flash in about 24 hours spanned across a weekend, you could play it on Kongregate to completion and see what others have thought by reading the comments. It was a charming little puzzle game that has since been removed by the developer, so you won't be able to play it sadly. Since April last year Mike has taken it on board to port the game over to Unity and make something even more impressive and visually rewarding than the original flash game. The above video is a walkthrough that a fan recorded of the flash version, so you can still compare it to the new Thomas and see just how far it's come.
When a game takes a minimalist approach you won't really get something hugely detailed, however with the improvements to Thomas you can see massive changes in the look of the game. The environment feels a lot richer than previously with the Flash version but then that could also be down to the dynamic shadows which I must say looked lovely. The characters themselves create their persona through their jump and interactions with the other characters. So while being minimalist it's a rich experience full of personality that compels you to play.
At the start of the game it's just Thomas as the title suggests, he was alone, however at different segments throughout the game a new friend is introduced, each with their own jump height and movement speed; which is really what the game relies upon. There are extra abilities that some characters have though, like the ability to swim. When Thomas meets each character they will have to work together to solve the puzzles that lead towards the eventual goal. Each puzzle feels well thought out and really shows a lot of time and effort have been put into crafting each one.
What would be lovely for Thomas, although most probably impossible, is a pressure sensitive jump, which of course cannot work with a keyboard as the primary input. As by having a set jump like Mario you can learn the distance required through trial and error. However trying to teach yourself just how high you can jump on a hard level full of spikes you do wish you could control the jump a tad. With each level only requiring between 30 seconds and 5 minutes in some cases it doesn't matter too much if you die a few times. I don't think I died too much, but on some levels I did find them a lot harder. It would be nice to be presented with narrative or visual feedback from dying too many times, which is perhaps thanks to me playing Escape Plan and Bastion but it could suit the game really well if carried out right.
Thomas features a procedural music system to help shape the music that David Housden has composed for the game to mirror the current events within the levels. You can hear a little sneak peak of one of the tracks if you watch the announcement trailer at the end of the preview, and I think you'll agree that the music really fits the game well. At times I could hear the music really well, but as I was playing Thomas within a loud environment sadly I didn't get to hear the full experience, but what I heard was lovely.
The build I played featured 30 levels in total and by gum I was determined to play every one of those, some were fairly simple and others I found gruellingly hard, however I wasn't playing from the comfort of my home. So I could always blame various people talking to me while I was playing. But it may have just been my foolishness and intermittent attention thanks to all the chatting around me. The 30 levels I played were great and I'm very happy to have gone all the way to the end to witness how much patience and speed I required to do well. I was also informed that there would hopefully be between 50-100 levels in the final game when it's released, so I can't wait to knuckle down and get all the way through it.
I had a very fun hour or two playing through the first segment of Thomas Was Alone, and with the absolutely stunning improvements carried out on the game in Unity, I cannot wait for the final release to see what Mike Bithell pulls out to round it off as a complete game.
Thomas Was Alone currently has a release date of April/May 2012 for Windows and Mac, but there's no set date as of yet, however you can keep an eye on the official website, or Mike Bithell's twitter feed for any updates as and when they come.