Among other things, 2020 has made it clear that a peaceful and relaxed game can be of great help in the most difficult times. Animal Crossing was the best example of the fact, at least if we’re talking about the mainstream, but it wasn’t and won’t be the only game exploring calmer play waters, the ones that make you feel like you’re sitting down. in front of a fireplace while the rain crackles on the window. Cue Toem, a new example of all of this.
Developed by Swedish studio Something We Made, it’s a puzzle-filled adventure where your “weapons” are your mind and an old camera. It tells a simple story, that of a young creature who leaves her grandmother’s house and goes on an expedition to discover the magic of TOEM, a special event that takes place on the highest mountain nearby. More than enough to house a fairly separate trip.
It’s about immortalizing moments. In other words, it turns the now popular photo modes into the base game mechanic. But, keep in mind, Toem is colorless. Everything is painted in black and white (with a bunch of grays added) and viewed through a floating camera which may appear isometric at first, but then allows the player to rotate and zoom at will. It’s a game that places great faith in the strangeness, uniqueness and sometimes closeness of its design and atmosphere to, for example, show close-ups of completely flat characters without any sign of shyness. Even if the lower resolution will not show their best look.
With that premise in mind and the goal of climbing to the top of the mountain, you spend your day visiting different areas, taking the bus, and taking on challenges. Therein lies the sauce of this game, even if its particularity is provided by its atmosphere and its characters. Every new place you reach (the woods, the beach, the town or the mountain, all inspired by Scandinavian environments) you will come across a series of the most diverse and multi-colored (figuratively speaking!) Creatures asking you to complete different tasks in order to to collect more stamps.
However, I would have liked to have found more, and they are sometimes a bit obscure. Sometimes it’s enough to photograph something that fits a specific request or find a specific item. Other times you have to use the camera’s dynamic zoom to search, a feature that is hailed as if it were 32nd century technology in the game. By the way, you can enhance your camera with a tripod or with the accessory that any photography enthusiast would kill to have: a horn.
You do not do these tasks altruistically, but with the goal of making free bus rides to the next destination. Each “level” or small region collects a certain number of stamps as payment for the next race. As the game progresses you end up yelling at a deaf climber, helping a balloon celebrate their birthday party, playing Three Card Monte with a ghost, helping a food influencer, finding monsters, becoming a boy scout, supporting a spy agency, or infiltrating a model parade. And I forget the craziest things.
And you also have to watch the room, either by wearing a wet sock, a foam finger, sunglasses or a pair of wooden shoes. The customization makes room for some hilarious stuff in a game like this, but it adds meaning to it. For example, sunglasses allow you to see ghosts better (of course!), The coat allows you to take pictures in the snowy environment without shaking your hands, and then the diving suit is essential for … well, for diving . There’s a utility to each element, but you’ll also have some laughs with your character’s appearance.
Toem is all of these and he also conveys an interesting personality, between the children’s tale and the many nods and references to more mature things in the world. It is neither demanding nor healthy, and that could be a plus. It gives you room to breathe, lets you explore serenely, and invites you to fail when it comes to solving little puzzles. And if you’re on the verge of progressing, go take a selfie, snap a photo of those stressed-out workers, capture that butterfly there, or immortalize the old lady who flipped her car bragging about her driving skills.
But it’s a completion world, and the game is also thinking of those who will want to explore every nook and cranny. For them, there are more stamps than needed to travel, apart from a collection of characters and animals and a series of special images for each location. Therefore, Toem does not end when you witness its magical phenomenon, and you will continue to play thereafter. Toem is finished whenever you decide it’s time to hang up your camera.
You will be reluctant, because his characters are too endearing. A few may give clues that are too vague, but all have something special about them. Their design, their lines, the tasks they give you … they are hard to forget, including the model parading with a paper hat or the marching band that stains your glass. Because, despite its minor flaws, Toem is truly unique.