Final Thoughts on Bit.Trip Presents Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien

This week I would normally be giving my thoughts on a book, but since I haven’t finished a new one yet (I’m close to finishing both the books I’m reading now, but not quite there) I’ll simply move on and look at a video game. The game I’ll be looking at had quite the mouthful of a title. The full title is Bit.Trip Presents Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien, but often it is shortened down to Runner2, or as I often call it Bit.Trip Runner2. So what kind of game is this rather long title? Let’s jump in and find out.

Bit Trip Runner 2Story

There is a bit of story to Bit.Trip Runner 2, but that’s not really the core of the game. Basically you play as the hero of the Bit.Trip world, Commander Video, who is sucked into another dimension by his nemesis Timbletot after being hit by a fusion beam. In this new dimension you seek a way to get back home and defeat Timbletot. Between worlds you get a bit of plot narration through a cutscene, but the story is pretty much along the lines of early console platformers. You play the hero progressing through levels to defeat the villain. It’s not a deep story, but as I’ve already said, the story isn’t the primary focus.

Gameplay

While the story is not the primary focus, the gameplay is. Bit.Trip Runner2 is a platformer for those who want a bit of a challenge. The game always seems fair in the challenge though.

The game drip feeds you new moves, particularly in the first world, in a way that tries very hard to not overwhelm. That and the moves themselves aren’t very complicated. You learn various moves like jumping, sliding, and kicking which have their own buttons. While later in the game there are more complicated moves combining these basic moves, liking having to kick while sliding or jump while sliding, these moves are typically only added to the mix once you’ve had plenty of time to get the moves down.

Unlike many of the platformers of older generations, Bit.Trip Runner2 has you automatically running through a level. So all you have control over are the moves you learn. This does add to the challenge as you have to have good reflexes or play until you have a memory of the level to know what is coming up next. If a level is too difficult there are three difficulties that you can play the levels at (easy, medium, and hard) so you can always adjust to suit where your skill level is at.

During each level you, I’d say there are always four basic goals (some of which are more optional than others). The first is simply to get through the level without getting hit. The second is to collect the gold and multiplier upgrades throughout the level to complete a level perfectly. If you accomplish this, the third basic goal is unlocked which is to try to hit the center of a bulls-eye at the end of the level. This will give you a completion rating of Perfect+ for that level. The fourth goal is to try to score the highest amount of points for a level.

You will die a lot throughout the game, but the penalties for dying are rather small. If you get hit during a level you will either rewind to the beginning of the level, or if you have reached the checkpoint in the level, you will simply rewind to the checkpoint. There are no lives, and the level allows you to keep trying as much as you want to.

Throughout the levels there are also secret paths, golden cartridges, and treasure boxes. These collectables allow you to unlock new characters, alternate outfits, and bonus “retro” levels that go back to the style of some of the earlier Bit.Trip style of pixel graphics.

After progressing through a world you have fight a boss character. In many ways these boss fights are like any of the other levels, but simply have times where you need to kick the boss to damage it. The boss battles also have a number of checkpoints so you don’t have to restart the battle from the beginning every time you get hit, which is nice.

Themes

With a story that is rather limited in scope, the themes that are within the story itself are fairly limited as well. You get a fairly basic good vs. evil tale that isn’t really developed too much.

Beyond the story though, I think you could argue that Bit.Trip Runner2 can promote other themes, like persistence, pattern recognition and memorization skills. These may be silly things to think of as themes, but so much of the game is about being able to know what action to do when faced with a particular challenge that I don’t think it is too much of a stretch. Add in a fairly limited punishment system that seems to promote memorization and retrying and it’s a pretty convincing case. Maybe theme would be the wrong word to use, but they are certainly things that the game promotes, even if unintentionally.

Positives

  • Let There Be Color – Bit.Trip Runner2 is a colorful and fantastical game. It does a fairly good job of displaying whimsy and fun parallel to danger and gloom. It just creates a rather unique and fun environment to run around in.
  • Energetic Soundtrack – The music also helps create the whimsical feel to the game. It is catchy and rightfully so, because you’ll probably be hearing some of the songs quite a bit.
  • Play it Again – Bit.Trip Runner2 has a decent amount of replay value for a smaller, indie game. You can go for the high score on levels, search for unlockables, or go after trophies by perfectly completing every level on all three difficulties.

Mixed

  • Easy to Learn, Hard to Master – As I said earlier the controls are fairly easy and responsive, however the game does get fairly difficult. Personally, I didn’t think that it was ever too hard especially after getting the controls down and practicing a bit. Some may very well disagree and find the game too difficult though. With an easy difficulty level this shouldn’t be too big of a thing, but I understand that not everyone likes a challenge.
  • Great for Short Bursts – While I enjoyed Bit.Trip Runner2 it was not always a game that I enjoyed playing for long periods of time. Sometimes I would, but it was often more enjoyable if I tackled a few levels and then moved on.
  • Repetition is Repetitive – A good portion of this game is about repetition. If you’re stuck on a level you will have to repeat it until you are able to pass the obstacle that is barring your way. Even if you don’t get stuck, levels can start to feel repetitive after awhile. This might be why I enjoyed the game more in short bursts.

Negatives

  • Shoot the Bulls-eye – One of the most frustrating aspects of the game for me was the Bulls-eye that showed up if you collected all the gold and multipliers for a level. There were times where I did really good at consistently hitting it, but then other times I was terrible at it. As I said it was the most frustrating part, and wasn’t all that enjoyable to me.
  • Running by the Scenery – This is a minor gripe, but the world of Bit.Trip Runner2 is so colorful and often so alive in the background, but because you’re constantly running the background has to be largely ignored. If you don’t then you’ll probably make a mistake and get sent back to the beginning. You kind of want to see all the stuff going on in the background because it is enjoyable to look at, but doing so typically results in messing something up.

Overall Impressions

Bit.Trip Presents Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien may be a mouthful, but I found it to be a highly enjoyable game. It is a challenging game, but I found it to be a fair and enjoyable challenge unlike some games. It rewards both natural skill and practice. It also places the challenge in a colorful and entertaining world. Throw in a decent amount of replay value and you have a game that will be enjoyable to play for some time, even if you may not play it in long sittings. It is definitely worth the $5 price tag for the PlayStation 3 and even the slightly higher prices for the Vita or on Steam.

I should also note that I played this game on the PlayStation 3, and a controller helps immensely. I remember trying the earlier Bit.Trip Runner on the PC with the keyboard and it was not very fun. So I do recommend playing with a controller for the best experience with this game for whatever platform you choose.

Final Thoughts on Rogue Legacy

Growing up playing video games in the NES and SNES era of video games, side-scrolling platformers were a common type of game to find released. Over time as technology improved 2D games became rarer and 3D games began to become the norm. Today with the upsurge of independent developers 2D games have become very popular again. Some would argue that there is an over abundance of these type of games, and they may have a point. Regardless of that larger argument, I’m looking at one of these type of games today, Rogue Legacy.

Rogue Legacy Title

Story

There isn’t too much story here. The King is ill and one of your ancestors, the Knight Johannes (who you play as for the tutorial/flashback), goes to the Castle Hamson to find the cure for the King. You wind up playing as the descendents of the King and Knight Johannes to unravel the mystery of the castle and to try regain the previous fortune of your family that was decimated upon entry into the mysterious Castle Hamson.

Really there isn’t too much story to the game though. You’ll run into journals throughout the game that talks about the journey of Johannes through the castle, and it’s interesting and changes a bit of the implications behind going into the castle in the first place, but doesn’t really alter your actions at all.

Gameplay

Rogue Legacy is considered a roguelike platformer. The roguelike elements come out in two prominent features of the game. First, the Castle Hamson is randomly generated, the setup of the castle will not be the same unless you use the architect NPC to keep the castle the same for a fee. While this doesn’t change the types of monsters you’ll find it changes the layout and traps that make up the castle. This can make quite a bit of difference sometimes on how far you can get in the castle.

The second feature that draws from roguelike and is a backbone of the game is permanent death and the heir system of the game. When you die in the game, and trust me you will die, your character is dead for good. You then have to pick a son or daughter of the character that just played.

These potential heirs are random and come from a pool of different classes like knight, mage, or assassin. In addition to picking from various classes each heir will have certain traits. These traits could be useful like ADHD which increases your move speed, negative like Alzheimer’s which removes your ability to look at your map, or purely cosmetic like color-blind which changes the colors of the game to greyscale. There are a number of combinations and can make the game easier or more difficult depending on what you get.

Rogue Legacy UpgradesWhen you pick your character you have the chance to purchase upgrades, new weapons, armor, or enchantments with the money and blueprints you found in the castle on your last play through. You then have to waste all remaining money upon entering the castle paying the gatekeeper Charon.

Once you’ve entered the castle your goal is to stay alive as long as possible, collect money, blueprints, and enchantments, and defeat the four bosses of the castle so that you can proceed to the final boss and conquer the castle. You do this by attacking people with your sword, magic spells, and the special abilities of your class. This may sound simple, but it will be a difficult task as you face difficult bosses and harder enemies as you proceed through the castle.

Rogue Legacy Gameplay

Themes

The game doesn’t really have much of a story so the themes again are sparse. You can extend the gameplay mechanics of heirs into a woeful tale of family duty and mystery. One could ask why do the descendants of Johannes continue in their quest to unravel the mysteries of the castle after so many members of the family have met their demise, but it’s really a question the game doesn’t answer and is left to imagination.

Rogue Legacy Boss

Positives

  • Cruise Control – I found that the game had some very good controls. I played it on the keyboard for the PC and was able to do fairly well with the game. I can imagine that playing with a controller would be an even better experience. This isn’t a game you die from because the controls are tough.
  • Progressing on the Journey – There was always a good sense of progress through Rogue Legacy. A new weapon or piece of armor to find, the need to collect money for the next upgrade, or a new enchantment to unlock. All this allowed for a good sense of progress. Yes sometimes this involved some grind, but it was a lot of fun to do in my opinion.
  • Legendary Cameos – Okay this is just a bit of a nerdy point, once you find out the plot centers around the fountain of youth it is interesting to note that the bosses all are names of people who are connected with the legend of the fountain of youth. Nothing that really improves the game directly, but I thought it was a nice touch.

Mixed

  • Patience is a Virtue – This is a difficult game, if you try to rush right through it unprepared it will not be nice to you. At times it will be very difficult to progress without properly upgrading your abilities. This will mean gaining money and finding equipment. I did find it tough at certain points to gain enough money to progress further, but eventually you do break through these points as you get better at the game and get sufficiently upgraded.
  • Just One More Try – Rouge Legacy is one of those games that can keep you coming back for one more round. This is a good thing as it means the game is fun and keeps you coming back for more. It’s not good though because it means it can be hard to pull yourself away trying to chip away at the challenge.
  • Now For Something Completely Different – The traits that this game include for characters are pretty interesting. Having ways to incorporate traits like ADHD, Dyslexia, Near-Sightedness, and many others is an interesting way of approaching character traits. It also can be quite funny how some of traits are displayed in the game. Some of these traits though get old and you find yourself looking for your favorites at times and sometimes you don’t get any good setups when choosing your heir.
  • Class Division – It could just be that certain classes in the game are suited towards certain play styles, but I found that some classes seemed to do much better in the game than others. While I don’t think this detracted from the fun of the game, it did cause me to play certain classes more than others unless you got a particularly poor draw.

Negatives

  • Did We Need to Make Things Harder – The only real negative I can think of comes from the super hard Remix bosses that were added to the game later. I was initially looking forward to them quite a bit, I mean more Rogue Legacy is a good thing, but I found myself disappointed. I found them very difficult, and since you have to use a set character there is no way to make things easier. I’m sure they can be beat, but it just wasn’t the more Rogue Legacy I wanted.

Overall Impressions

I’m sure by now you’ve realized that I thoroughly enjoyed Rogue Legacy. It is a challenging game, but it is doable with patience and a willingness to collect money and upgrades. I found it to be a fun, well done platformer that kept me coming back. You may be turned off by the 15$ price tag, but I honestly think the game is worth it. If you don’t I know that you can find this game on sale at various points for the PC. This game is also coming out to the PS3, Vita, and PS4 later this month so if you’d rather go that route you’d be able to as well.

Final Thoughts on Pixeljunk Shooter

With the combination of digital distribution and independent developers genres like the side-scrolling shooter type of games made a comeback during the last console generation (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii) that is still going fairly strong today. This has allowed for different takes on the mechanics beyond just shooting bad guys. One of these games that has some different mechanics is Pixeljunk Shooter for the PlayStation 3.

Pixeljunk ShooterStory

There isn’t much of a story to Pixeljunk Shooter, but there is a little bit to set you up. It’s the future and mining operations on distant planets is a reality. You are on a your spaceship, the ERS Piñita Colada, when you receive a distress signal from one of these mining colonies on a nearby planet.

You respond to the distress signal and attempt to save those who broadcast the signal. You disembark your ship in a smaller rescue vessel to travel down in the mines to find trapped miners and rescue them. It’s not bad for a setup of the story, but it is hardly anything too original either.

Gameplay

While there are some aspects of Pixeljunk Shooter that are fairly unique, the basic setup is pretty standard. You can shoot basic missiles to destroy your enemies or makes paths through levels and as a secondary fire you have homing missiles as well. In addition to this you have a claw that you use to rescue workers and utilize other items to help you through the environmental hazards of the game.

These environmental hazards are really what sets Pixeljunk Shooter as being rather unique. The first thing to mention is that instead of a traditional life bar or simply dying with one hit, you have a heat bar. The heat bar not only increases by getting hit by an enemy, but also by shooting your homing missiles and being too close to lava. If your heat bar fills up too much then your ship overheats, crashes and you die. However, things like water will cool your ship off faster if you dive into a pool or stream of water.

The heat bar is a pretty smart decision when you’re wanting to make environmental hazards and puzzles a large part of your game. As you progress through the game you’ll experience a number of different environmental obstacles. You’ll find water, dirt, lava, ice, gas, and a magnetic black liquid. What’s interesting is that you have have to use or be careful of various combinations of these liquids to progress.

These various substances can interact with each other. You can use water to change lava into dirt. Lava can melt ice or if it touches gas it sets off a chain explosion. These interactions are pretty fun and provide a bit of a puzzle aspect of the game. You have to figure out how to use the different environments to get past the level without killing yourself or the miners that you’re trying to save.

The environments change a bit between the three areas that you have to traverse. The first one mainly has you dealing with water, dirt, and lava, the second adds ice, and the last adds gas and the magnetic liquid. At the end of each of these areas you also fight a large boss before you’re able to progress.

Themes

Since there isn’t much of a story it is hard to have significant themes. The only real plot point is that you’re helping rescue people in need, and while that’s not an insignificant theme, it’s not a theme developed by the game. It is simply used as setup and little more.

Positives

  • A Lighthearted Game – Everything about the game, the art design, the little guys you need to rescue with the Help! speech bubbles over their heads is a pretty lighthearted affair.  It’s a game that says it’s okay just to have fun.
  • Simple Premise, Fun Interactions – It’s a game that has fairly simple controls and goals, but maintains fun by way of the various environments and puzzles that you have to figure out in order to progress.
  • Two for the Mines – Local Co-Op is a feature that I think is too often overlooked. Thankfully, Pixeljunk Shooter is able to be played with friends or family in this way, so two of you can make a rescue mission together.

Mixed

  • Who Made That Man a Gunner – Sometimes if you’re not paying attention to where you’re shooting you can accidentally take out a miner or cause a environmental catastrophe. This isn’t a huge thing as you can just take your time and make better shots, but it can be tricky while trying to shoot enemies who are close to your miners.

Negatives

  • Smallish Side of Tiny – The game is pretty short. It’s a fun ride and there are collectibles to go back and find, but it’s still on the short side. However, this is really the only negative I can really think of.

Overall Impression

Pixeljunk Shooter is a game that I would really recommend. If you only have a PS3, I’d totally recommend it. Even if it is a short game it’s very fun and unique enough to stand out from other side scrolling shooters. Admittedly, if you own a PlayStation 4 or a PlayStation Vita the better way to go would probably be to buy Pixeljunk Shooter Ultimate which includes both Pixeljunk Shooter and the sequel Pixeljunk Shooter 2 for less than buying them separate on the PS3.

Either way though, I’d recommend the game. It’s a lot of fun, can play it with a friend or family member.

Final Thoughts on DLC Quest

One of the fairly recent developments in video games is DLC or downloadable content. It has been a development that has been met with mixed reviews to be certain. You can find games that charge absurd prices for cosmetic changes to the game, games that leave out content from the initial release to release DLC shortly after release, and you can also find reasonably priced DLC that is well done and worth purchasing.

What does this have to do with the game I’m looking at today? How about the fact that DLC Quest is a parody game pointed directly at the idea of DLC. In fact it goes pretty much as far as having every element of the game needing to be “purchased” including sounds, the ability to turn left, animations, everything. You don’t have to use real world money, but these “DLC packs” are purchased using in game coins.

DLC Quest TitleStory

Well let’s be honest, DLC Quest‘s focus is not story. It introduces itself as a basic go find the bad guy and rescue the princess kind of game. Story is not the focus here, it’s game with a joke about DLC and perhaps a grim vision of a potential future where every part of a game needs to be unlocked by some kind of DLC.

Gameplay

DLC Quest is a platformer, you jump and explore levels to collect coins in order to unlock more of the “DLC packs” so that you can continue on to the next portion of the game. That’s pretty much it. It’s not very complex. It’s running and jumping and finding enough money for the “DLC” you need to get past the most recent obstacle in you path.

DLC Quest Gameplay

Themes

With a threadbare story one would not expect this game to have any significant themes. Largely the only theme present is the joke that the game centers around, the idea of DLC being abused. It’s not that significant really, but it is the theme that this game is built around. You could potentially walk away from the game thinking about healthy and unhealthy business practices in regards to the gaming industry or in general, but I doubt that would be most people’s take away from this game.

Positives

  • Keep it Simple – DLC Quest is a simple, but fun game. It may not have the complexity of many games today, but it was still surprisingly fun.
  • Priced for What it is – Steam has this game for $2.99, which compared to a lot of the indie games that I’ve given my thoughts on here, is actually a price that fits well with a game of this length and complexity. It probably even goes on sale cheaper than this at times and would then even be a better deal.

Mixed

  • Over and Over Again – DLC Quest’s joke is funny. Poking fun of the video game industry and particularly DLC is an area ripe for some mockery. However, crafting a whole game around that one joke can get old. It keeps it interesting with amusing extra “DLC packs” like Canadian dialog, but it’s really the same joke over and over again. The developers certainly aren’t hiding this fact, but just be aware.
  • Where to Go – There are points in the game that what you need to do next isn’t entirely clear. These are rare, but I remember at least one point where I wasn’t sure what I needed to do. I eventually figured it out and all it took was being willing to explore a little, but it just reminded me of a part of older gaming that I don’t miss, the wander around hoping you’ll figure out what to do.

Negative

  • What Big Eyes You Have – I’m not one who nitpicks graphics too much. However, the characters in this game are pretty ugly. Don’t take this as I just don’t like retro graphics. I like them just fine. They can be done rather well and look nice even today, but this game doesn’t do it. The eyes of the characters are almost larger than their whole head and it just makes them look very strange. A minor gripe to be certain, but they are still ugly looking characters.

Overall Impression

DLC Quest is a fun little time waster. It’s a one joke pony, but executes it well enough. You are not getting a complicated game with an engrossing story or well developed themes. Instead it is focused on the main joke and trying to find as many ways to poke at the joke throughout the game, which can get old or annoying. The game is short and fun, but lacks in substance.

At $2.99 or cheaper it’s priced better than some games this length, but still may be one that lacks the pull to make you purchase. There are better platformers out there and plenty of other avenues to get the humor. I enjoyed it, but not enough to give it a glowing recommendation. It’s not a bad game, but just understand what you’re getting before jumping into it.

 

 

Final Thoughts on Little Inferno

A video game that takes place largely in front of a fireplace doesn’t necessarily seem like it would be a good idea. Little Inferno, however, is centered around burning things in a fireplace. How does such a strange idea turn out?

Little Inferno TitleStory

There is a story to Little Inferno, but it is minimal. As I already said the game is centered around a fireplace, the “Little Inferno Entertainment Fireplace” to be exact. Supposedly, you live in a city where temperatures have been dropping and all people do is stay at home in front of their fireplaces burning things. There is a bit more story that develops as you receive letters from various people, but this setup is what most of the story revolves around.

Gameplay

Since the game is centered around a fireplace it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that the gameplay focuses around burning various objects. How do you get these items to burn? You do that by ordering items out of various catalogs with coins. You start out with one catalog and unlock seven of them.

Little Inferno Catalog

Ordering an item will make it appear after a set amount of time. After they arrive you can then throw the item in the fireplace to have it burn up. This can be fairly interesting as most of the objects have some special reaction to being tossed in the fire. As they’re burned up they’ll drop coins, more coins than it originally cost to purchase it. This allows for you to buy more expensive items as the game progresses. You can also earn stamps which allow you to remove the wait times on items and get them immediately.

Little Inferno Fireplace

In addition to this there is a bit of a puzzle element to the game as well. There is a list of various combos that you can achieve by mixing and matching items that you order from the catalog. Most of these aren’t too difficult, but occasionally you’ll find one that might slow you down a couple minutes. You will need to find them all in order to unlock the ending of the game.

Themes (Spoilers May Appear Here)

How can such a simplistic sounding game have any significant themes. Well by attempting to be a parody of time wasting games. The not so subtle message of the game is that there is more to life than just sitting in front of a screen, or fireplace in this case. However, there is a bit of dissonance in that message. When you use a form of media to say that just being in front of a screen all day is bad, it’s hard to be taken seriously. Not to say the developers did a bad job with it, just it’s more of an inherent difficulty.

I’m not sure if it is an intended theme, but this whole game could kind of speak against consumerism in general. You order a wide variety of goods from the catalogs simply to toss it in the fire. It’s rather wasteful, but I wonder if we don’t do similar things. We get distracted by an item or two we thought we needed only to move on from it shortly after. We don’t set it aflame, at least I don’t think most of us do, but we burn through stuff and move on to different stuff.

Positives

  • Something a Little Different – Who would have thought about making a game centered around a fireplace? The developers at Tomorrow Corporation (all three of them) that’s who. Regardless of whether you liked this game or not, it’s certainly a unique concept and I’m all for different types of game.
  • Simple and Fun – The concept of this game is very simple, it not that challenging even in on its puzzle side. Some may find the simplicity to be a negative thing, but honestly a game like this is just kind of nice. You’re not looking for a super strategic game or an epic story. You’re just looking for a simple game that has a hint of mystery. It’s not that long of a game either, I pretty much completed everything in 3 hours.
  • Fire it Up and See What Happens – As I said above when you throw the various wares you order from the catalog in the fire they can do unique things. I found this pretty fun to do. You never knew what was going to happen when you tossed an item in. Sure the reactions never changed, but I can’t remember finding myself feeling like they ever got old.

Mixed

  • Where Medium and Message Collide – As I said above the main theme of the game grates a little against the medium that it is presented. Imagine watching a movie that tells you that watching movies was a waste of time or a book that did the same. It would be a bit jarring and this is no different. You can argue that they’re going for moderation, it’s okay to play, just do it in moderation. It still seems odd to me as the main theme of a game.
  • Waiting for the Mail – Some have complained about the wait times for items, and well I didn’t find too much trouble with them. Sometimes I had to wait for an item I wanted or needed for a combo, but I was able to order and burn some other items to pass the time. A minor annoyance, but nothing I found to be that negative.

Negatives

  • Waiting for a Fire Sale – I played this on the PC through Steam. Looking at the price in the store it’s placed at $9.99. That is awfully expensive. I purchased it as part of a Humble Bundle so it was not even close to that amount. Since then though the game has released on iTunes for $4.99 and is currently at $2.99 on Google Play. These are prices probably closer to what the games worth. I’m not sure what it is with some of the more experimental indie games going for the ten dollar mark, but few of them seem to be worth that in my mind.

Overall Impressions

I enjoyed Little Inferno. It’s a simple game and doesn’t take long to complete. But I thought it was a fun diversion, but certainly not worth as much as they’re asking for at least on through Steam. If what you’ve read here sounded interesting, I’d recommend picking it up only if you find it on sale or look into the cheaper mobile versions. While fun Little Inferno is something I would find hard to justify paying $10 for.

 

Final Thoughts on Thomas Was Alone

Thomas Was Alone is a game that I didn’t really know much about going into. I believe I picked it up as part of a bundle. I only pick up bundles that I at least heard of one or two games included, but this often means that I get games that I haven’t heard of before to try. Thomas Was Alone was one of these games. So was this a game that I was better off not knowing about, or it is one that I think everyone should know about?

2013-07-12_00001Story

This is a game that is hard to really give the story about. In some ways you could say that it doesn’t have much of a story. In other ways it incorporates a story within a story. It can do this all while being rather ambiguous about one of the stories. Are you confused yet? Well don’t worry because it really doesn’t matter all that much.

The overarching story is that the game takes place in a computer mainframe and the characters you control are AIs that have gained self-awareness. This is mainly hinted at with quotes at the beginning of each chapter, but you can also get hints at this during the actual gameplay, it just isn’t necessarily as crystal clear.

The story that goes on in this framework seems much simpler. The AIs that you control each have their own personality and due to some fantastic narration, each AI has a unique personality and “interact” with each others personalities in interesting ways. We’re not talking grand story telling here, we’re talking about giving squares and rectangles personalities in a way that you didn’t think possible.

The ambiguous part is what the whole AI self-awareness really means and what the final result of your story is. It doesn’t really seem to give you this information. If you’re like me though, this doesn’t really matter. The personalities and interactions between the AIs/shapes were much more interesting to me.

Gameplay

Thomas Was Alone is a puzzle platformer. The main goal of each stage is to take your different AIs, each of which are a different size or shape, through a map and get them to a white outline of their particular shape. Each AI/shape is unique. Thomas who is the AI you start with is a smallish sized rectangle who can jump moderately high. However, there are many other AIs you run into. Each AI is unique, one is short and can’t jump very high, another is really tall and can leap high in the air, there is also a large square that can float in the water, as well as others.

2013-07-12_00002As the levels progress you’ll need to have your AIs work together to get to the goals. You may have to ferry other shapes using the blue square that floats. There are also stages where you have to use some of the shapes as steps to allow the smaller shapes to reach higher platforms.

Postives

  • Making Shapes Come Alive. One of the most enjoyable aspects of this game was how the shapes were given personality. Sure they’re fairly one dimensional personalities, but the delivery and interaction of these personalities were done well in my opinion. You will probably smile, and you may even laugh a bit at some of the narration.
  • Smooth Sailing. Sometimes games like this can get too complicated. They try to make the puzzles very hard and can make it pretty frustrating to get through. This game doesn’t do that. Some may complain that it is really too easy, but honestly games like this that are enjoyable and are more on a easy-moderate scale are nice to have sometimes.

Mixed

  • Personality Trumps Story. I’ll be honest, the AI aspect of the story was interesting, but honestly the overarching story was kind of lost compared to the personalities and interpersonal interactions of the AI. I put this as mixed, because well it makes me wonder what the main focus of the game is. Is it the personalities and interactions of the shapes or is it the idea of AI becoming self-actualized. Or is that just the backdrop to explain shapes with personalities? This mixed feeling didn’t really take away from the game, but it is there as I think and reflect on what the game was about.

Negative

  • The Switcheroo. About two thirds of the way through the game you change the group of AIs that you’re following. These AIs weren’t terrible, but I don’t know I just felt that they weren’t as enjoyable as the ones that you played during the bulk of the game. Maybe that’s just me, but they just seemed to lack something that the earlier ones did. Maybe it is partly due to the fact they didn’t have as unique of characteristics, which is mainly due to story and gameplay events for that last portion of the game. They seem to be meant to be more generic, but still I found these later AIs to not be quite as enjoyable as the earlier ones.

Overall Impressions

I really enjoyed Thomas Was Alone. It was fun, quirky, and an enjoyable little experience. My only hesitation in my recommendation is the price. It is the same price as Dear Esther and Proteus, which were the last two games I gave my thoughts on, at $9.99 on Steam. Personally I’d say this is a better deal than Dear Esther or Proteus, but Thomas Was Alone is still a somewhat short game. I’d say to definitely pick this game up if you find it on sale or in a bundle. It’s a fun little game, that isn’t too hard, but has loads of personality considering what it is.