Staff Picks: Thomas Was Alone is an ode to artificial intelligence (and double jumps)
At a Glance
At a friend’s birthday party last year, I ended up parked in front of their PlayStation watching them play through half of Thomas Was Alone, an eerily beautiful platformer about a group of sentient colored blocks and their journey to the outside world. We paused for cake at some point, and Thomas’s journey was left unfinshed—until this week, when a well-timed screenshot from MacStories’s Federico Viticci alerted me to the fact that the game had finally been ported to the iPad.
On first glance, Thomas Was Alone appears to be your typical platformer: You guide a series of colored blocks through platforms, perilous acid water, and spikes to reach portal doors at the end of each level. Been there, done that, fallen to my death a thousand times because after all these years I still don’t know how to time double jumps.
But Thomas almost immediately plays with these expectations, throwing in gravity deformations, new abilities, and strange patches called “shifters” that alter a block’s abilities (if you’ve played Portal 2, these patches are similar to the way you change portal types on your gun). Pair this with an excellent soundtrack from David Housden, narration from the delightfully Scottish Danny Wallace, and a carefully crafted story arc, and the game comes to life in a way few platformers have for me. If you love Portal, Sword and Sworcery, Monument Valley, The Room, and other creepy quirky puzzlers, this is a game you need to play—no question.
It’s lengthy, too, when compared to your average iPad fare: There are ten levels with ten scenarios apiece, each dealing with a different aspect of the blocks’ quest. As is the case with most longer games, there are areas that aren’t quite as polished and may annoy those without excellent double-jump skills; areas of level 6 proved super frustrating to me until I switched from the game’s “digital” controls to the unseen “analog” controls. (They allow you to tap anywhere on the right side to jump and slide your thumb anywhere on the left to move, rather than offer strict buttons for the purpose.)
But any of my occasional timing issues fall far into the background when looking at the game as a whole; it held me captive for hours last year, and many hours more this week when I played through it on the iPad. If you’re looking for a puzzle platformer to keep you up late into the night—smiling all the way—this is it.