Thomas Was Alone
On the surface, it's easy to put Thomas Was Alone in the puzzle platform genre, citing games like The Lost Vikings when you discuss the gameplay mechanics and mentioning VVVVVV as a possible source of lo-fi indie inspiration. But after you've spent some time with the game, you suddenly realize it's much more than just a platformer. Thomas Was Alone is an interactive, character-driven puzzle experience with a beautiful audio visual presentation and gameplay controls/physics that were no doubt fine-tuned with fastidious precision.
One morning, Thomas woke up to realize he existed. This was quite an unusual thing, seeing as how he didn't exist before. He's alone, which is something, but he's also quite good at falling. Not only that, but he seems to be able to fall in the opposite direction, something he'll call "jumping". Before long, Thomas meets Chris, a shorter, heavier rectangle who can't jump quite as high (but gets along just fine all the same, thank you). Soon, Thomas meets more friends, each with their own unique shape and special ability, ranging from the tall and thin John to the surprisingly buoyant Claire. The newfound friends have to work together to make it through each level, hopping on top of each other's heads and taking turns climbing across the dark landscape as they avoid dangers and press switches to transform the very layout of the land.
To move about in Thomas Was Alone, use the [arrow] or [AD] keys, with [up] or the [spacebar] to jump. You can switch between characters using [Q] and [E], or jump straight to one using the [number] keys. Simple controls, indeed, and once you get the hang of fast switches, you'll be well on your way to mastering the subtleties of single player cooperative quadrilateral gameplay!
Analysis: Thomas Was Alone isn't merely a technical piece of precision goodness, it's also a well-written game, stylistically speaking. Imagine if Douglas Adams wrote children's fairytales and you'll get the basic tone the writing takes. Thomas and his friends all have very distinct personalities, likes, dislikes, thoughts, and attitudes towards each other. Not only that, but through the narration, the dynamics between the group grows as the game progresses, something you rarely see done with such eloquent brevity. Publishing the game without the brief pieces of texts would turn Thomas Was Alone into just another puzzle platformer to throw on the pile (albeit one with a nice presentation and some excellent gameplay). With just a little bit of characterization, the game suddenly springs to life, endearing itself to the player as they, too, become part of the team.
Apart from the wonderful presentation (with soundtrack by David Housden), gameplay in Thomas Was Alone is just as solid. Characters move in different ways, each with his or her own weight and speed. Chris feels so heavy, somewhat matching his personality, and John moves as if filled with air. The puzzles are smart and quickly get more intricate, and while they do tend to repeat a bit over time, you never really mind, as the game has already managed to charm you through and through, so a few repetitive jumps are no mind.
Thomas Was Alone is a little indie masterpiece that does great things with narrative and minimalist artwork. It's not just a platform puzzle game, it's a story of some little self-aware blocks who are on a quest to figure out what this whole "existence" thing is and why it's so utterly fascinating!