Sometimes, the smallest, shortest games leave the biggest impact. I don’t need an open world from a massive studio to feel emotional about the content matter. My most memorable moments come from smaller, quieter games brimming with gameplay that isn’t necessarily the most popular or engaging, but something that’s far outside the expectation. What I mean is games like Journey, Celeste and TOEM might be indie, but they pack the emotional one-two punch of a triple AAA narrative.
Not knowing exactly what I was getting into is partially why I was glad to be working on TOEM. Photography games are in a renaissance period now, with games like Umurangi Generation, New Pokemon Snap, Beasts of Maravilla Island and to a lesser extent, Alba: A Wildlife Adventure
Pictures are more than just memories, they are stories, snapshots of important things in our lives be it people, pets, or places. Some of us use cameras to take selfies, others use cameras to make a living. We often overlook at how lucky we are to have technology so readily available at our fingertips. Taking that notion and implementing it into another medium could go very wrong but with TOEM, the results are overwhelmingly successful.
A-TOEM We Will Go
Something We Made, a small studio delivers its latest game – one about a youngling who heads out to the tallest peak of the mountains to find the TOEM, an event that is so rare, no one can even begin to describe it. So, once you’re finally given the brief tutorials, you can head out into the world to find and photograph this illustrious event.
TOEM uses an isometric view to tell its story, with the game shifting to a first-person view when taking photos. You use your camera to take images of all the fascinating landmarks, the animals around you, things required to complete quests and, in some cases, even selfies. By swapping to the first-person mode, you often see the world from a whole new perspective and happen upon hidden things you may have missed otherwise.
If you’re in an area where it’s raining, then mud and rain will cover your lens and TOEM starts out with limited options for what your camera can do before unlocking more items like the tripod. Specifically, the tripod and horn are neat because one helps to stabilize your shots while the other can be used to comedic effect when someone’s in your photo.
Look at this Photograph
All in, I spent no more than five hours playing through TOEM. This includes completing the story and then returning to collect and find secrets hidden throughout the game. Like A Short Hike, the game does what it sets out to do and allows you to move on, by simply not overstaying its welcome. If you really want to extend your playtime, the sidequests are worth finishing and can be tracked via your Community Card
With the Community Card, you use this to track requests that have come in, giving clues on what type of photos you need to complete each quest. Some are straightforward requests, often taking little time to complete while others require brainpower to figure out. At the end of each successful request, your Community Card is given a stamp to prove you’ve not only completed the challenge but as a satisfying way to track your achievements.
What stuck with me throughout my time playing TOEM, was the graphics. The simple, hand-drawn monochromatic graphics might not be for everyone, but I found them expressive and distinct. Even with simple graphics, characters are expressive, and the world is filled with detail. Paired with excellent music, exploring the world to laid-back music feels often tranquil and warm.
TOEM is satisfying and engaging, packed with charm, wit, and goofiness. I can’t decide what I love more about the short adventure – I love the photography mechanics; I like the presentation and I like how I felt playing through the game. A game like this is rewarding and respects your time and given how little free time we all seem to have these days, makes the return experience each day even more special. Through the simplicity of TOEM, you are often encouraged to explore the world through the magic of a camera lens.
[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.]
Reviewed on: PlayStation 5
- Short, sweet, and so much fun
- Highly accessible
- Gorgeous, simple graphics