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#MaybeinMarch 2020: Thomas Was Alone

#LoveYourBacklog Week in February is an event designed to encourage everyone to share their love for their growing pile of video games. It’s something which should be a sign of just how much we love our hobby, rather than being viewed with a feeling of guilt.

We now continue with #MaybeInMarch, where bloggers are asked to try and complete the unplayed or unfinished title which has spent the most time on their backlog. My own attempt took place this weekend as I tried to complete Thomas Was Alone by Mike Bithell live on Twitch. It’s a game I bought the same time as last year’s #MaybeinMarch nomination, LIMBO by Playdead, so it has been waiting for me to finish it since 25 March 2013 – almost exactly seven years.

When I first tried it out back then, I think it was one of the first real indie games I’d ever played and it really impressed me. It was a surprise to find that a story more complex than ‘save the princess’ could be told through a minimalist platformer, and unique personalities could be given to characters who were just simple shapes on a screen. Sadly, I didn’t make it to the end though; this genre has never felt entirely for me so I think I put the title to one side in favour of a point-and-click.

After our success with LIMBO in 2019 (although I still can’t tell you for sure what it’s about), I was keen to try Thomas Was Alone again to see if I could make it to the credits this year. The first thing that struck me was just how good the visuals still look after all this time. At first they seem incredibly plain, with platforms marked out in black against lighter backgrounds; but peer closer and you’ll see all sorts of details. Just look at the way drops of water bounce off surfaces in a spray of square pixels.

The same level of quality is apparent in the soundtrack too. My stepson unexpectedly came to join us for the start of our stream and was passed the controller, by the end of his go was saying how ‘relaxing’ he thought the music was and how he thought he’d be able to listen to it all night. It’s chilled throughout the starting levels before Thomas as his friends know there’s anything wrong, but then creates a sense of urgency while still maintaining its minimalism the further you progress.

It’s impossible to talk about the game’s sound without mentioning its narration, and this is the thing I remember most from playing it back in 2013. I’m not usually a Danny Wallace fan but even I must admit that he has done an incredible job here and it’s easy to see why he earned a BAFTA Games Performance Award for his work. He somehow manages to enhance each character’s personality without changing the sound of his voice, and it’s hard not to laugh at some of his lines.

Saying that though, it’s also difficult not to become exasperated when hearing them while failing the same level repeatedly. This is what happened to us after reaching section 4.9. I don’t remember the controls feeling so sluggish when I first played Thomas Was Alone but now there’s a fraction of a section between pressing the A-button and the character actually jumping. A thread on the Steam Discussions reveals that other players have had similar issues and playing with the game’s settings may have given us some improvement.

After spending 30 minutes on the same level – the controller having already been passed to my other-half in frustration by this point – we decided to call it a day. It had taken us four hours to get through a title which, according to HowLongToBeat.com, we should have been able to complete in less than that time. We watched the ending on YouTube after our stream instead and, for the sake of avoiding spoilers, let’s just say that we weren’t disappointed about not making it there ourselves.

As Cameron from Dragon In The Castle said in Twitch chat that night: “Some games are just meant to be backlogged.” Unfortunately, Thomas Was Alone is one of those for me and I don’t ever see myself going back to it. I’ve written before that there’s no point in spending our free time on releases we’re not enjoying when it’s so limited and therefore precious; and a title that receives high ratings from critics doesn’t mean that everyone should buy it, will love it or will see it through to the end.

But that’s the beauty of #MaybeInMarch. It gives us a chance to try something that’s been waiting in our backlogs almost forgotten about, perhaps a genre we wouldn’t usually play. You might get lucky and find a new favourite. You might find something you don’t necessary enjoy but encourages plenty of discussion, as LIMBO did last year. Or you might find something like Thomas Was Alone, which makes you realise there are other titles much more suited to you as a player.

One of the conversations that came up in Twitch chat was Pete’s backlog and what his #MaybeInMarch nomination would have been. Well, I’ve just checked his Steam library and can reveal that it’s LA Cops by Modern Dream, a game I gave to him back on 05 October 2014. Who knows, if we can convince him to give up Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 for long enough, you might find him playing it during a stream one day.

As for me, it looks like I could end up playing one of several titles for 2021’s #MaybeInMarch event: The Cave, Papa & Yo, Still Life or The Path. At least it isn’t going to be another pure platformer.

Kim View All

Video game lover, Later Levels blogger and SpecialEffect volunteer. Big fan of wannabe pirates and fine leather jackets.

12 thoughts on “#MaybeinMarch 2020: Thomas Was Alone Leave a comment

  1. Weird, my copy of Thomas was alone has impeccable controls. I just tested it. Maybe there’s a difference between the PC and console version?

    If the controls are bad in your version I can understand why you never liked it. The whole game took me 27 minutes according to Steam, and I think the super-short completion time is a key element to the game…
    Welp, gotta choose your battles, I guess 🙂

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    • I’m guessing it probably would have been a more enjoyable experience if the controls weren’t making it so difficult, but platformers are never going to be my thing. I think I bought this back in 2013 because it was one of those ‘indie games you have to play’. Oh well, I tried – but I’m pleased to know I haven’t got to face another platformer again next year. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Bit of a shame that you didn’t get on with Thomas was Alone, but as you said we only have limited time and spending it on something you aren’t enjoying is no good.

    One thing I did notice watching the VOD: you didn’t have vertical sync enabled which was causing screen tearing throughout. Might be part of the reason the game felt a bit off.

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    • Ah ok, thanks for the tip. If I ever get the urge to go back and try it again, I’ll bear that in mind – but I think it’s going to be a while! ha ha

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  3. Is it worth getting? I really find it difficult to be interested in platformers these days. The last one I played was Jak & Daxter on the Vita but I could never get into number 2. Which is surprising considering I used to love them. Difficulty wise what ages do you think would be suitable for this?

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    • I honestly don’t remember it being that difficult the first time I played it. I completed the level we got stuck on back then, so it doesn’t make sense that we couldn’t do it now!

      If the controls are working properly, Thomas Was Alone is probably suitable for most ages. Additionally, there’s nothing scary or inappropriate in it so it’s pretty kid-friendly.

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  4. At least you can tick it off the backlog right? 🙂

    I think I felt pretty much the same about Thomas was alone (although it was years ago that I played it). It’s one of those games that I file under ‘interesting’, but not necessarily ‘good’.

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    • Yeah… I think it deserved attention for what it achieved at the time (and I do like the way it managed to make real characters out of simple shapes), but perhaps it was a little overblown? I’ve played other games by the developer which I’ve enjoyed more, but I don’t think I’m ever going to be his biggest fan.

      Liked by 1 person

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