Although 'simple and charming' is a worn-out phrase used to describe the numerous puzzle platformers on the PlayStation Network, there's no question that those three words suit Thomas Was Alone perfectly. Guiding geometric shapes through a gauntlet of hazards and obstacles is the order of the day, but while the cross-buy adventure may look and sound dreary, each object is brought brilliantly to life. You may not expect it, but you'll quickly come to love these basic bricks.
The game opens with an oblong named Thomas, who's gained free-will following a climactic occurrence within the mainframe of a computer. Immediately, you'll find yourself traversing stages filled with hazards and obstacles, desperately hunting for an exit. It feels a lot like navigating a set of roof tops on a dark evening; the game shuns detail in favour of black shapes and dull backgrounds, with the odd floating platform offering sanctuary from the hazardous water and free falls below. The game slowly incorporates new challenges, such as spikes, elevators, rising water, and more, further testing your dexterity, while narrator Danny Wallace fleshes out the plot and infuses the action with some personality.
It turns out that Thomas isn't alone after all, and it's not long before other shapes are introduced, such as a square named Chris. Each of these new characters has different abilities. The aforementioned figure, for example, is limited to a particularly small jump, preventing him from navigating stages without the aid of the eponymous hero, who can create steps for the character to climb. Throughout, the voiceover personifies the stars especially well, alluding to Chris' grumpy nature due to his distinct limitations. It really helps to provide you with a sense of attachment to these otherwise basic shapes, and encourages you to stick with the experience until you reach the conclusion of each stage.
The game experiments with plenty of different mechanics throughout the course of its running time. Shapes with the ability to float on water can be used to transport others over the ocean, while anti-gravity objects can help you to avoid spikes and traverse particularly tricky terrains. The flat, pink rectangle Laura, for example, has the ability to act as a trampoline for the other shapes to jump on, and each playable protagonist complements its companions extremely well. They may represent little more than basic geometry, but they fit together perfectly, both figuratively and mechanically.
And it's that sense of camaraderie that elevates the release beyond its humble appearance. It's a story about friendship, tolerance, self-image, and team work. The manner in which the title breathes humanity into its cast is its greatest strength, and while it feels odd acknowledging the characterisation in a game that features little more than geometric shapes, it merely highlights the outstanding achievements fulfilled by the writing.
In spite of that, though, it is a disappointingly short experience. While 100 levels sounds like a treasure trove of tricky traversal trials, the majority of them are extremely short. It also never really challenges you, to the point where it can become somewhat repetitive. The narrative is what will keep you playing until the end, but it's crying out for more content and a sterner difficulty. There is the attraction of a timed exclusive expansion pack, which features 30 additional levels and a new character named Benjamin, who's a square with a jetpack. It's just unfortunate that this content is sold separately.
Thomas Was Alone is an engrossing puzzle platformer that introduces some believable and appealing characters, but the experience is disappointingly short-lived and lacks challenge. You will finish the core campaign wanting more, so it's nice that there's an additional DLC expansion available – but it's a shame that the add-on isn't included as part of the primary package.