After seeing a trailer for TOEM at last month’s Indie World Showcase, I quietly waited with bubbling anticipation for its release. I’m a big fan of photography-based games and have reviewed a few already on The Game Crater. However, TOEM looked different. Not only did its isometric perspective offer a new way to experience the genre, but its black and white visuals, coupled with its unique aesthetic, led me to believe that TOEM would be something special. Fortunately, after sinking a large portion of my day into it, I can confirm that TOEM is truly phenomenal.
“TOEM succeeds at being a phenomenal entry into the ever-growing casual genre.”
TOEM’s core gameplay loop is rather simple and perfectly matches its more laidback atmosphere. Each area requires you to collect the requisite amount of tokens needed before you can progress to the next area. Usually, in order to gain said tokens, you’ll need to utilise your camera in interesting ways. It could be as simple as just taking a photograph at the right moment. Or perhaps you’ll be tasked with zooming in on hidden objects to highlight them. Outside of this, however, there isn’t all that much too TOEM, at least in terms of gameplay.
And this isn’t really an issue. This simple yet satisfying gameplay loop allows for relaxing and laidback sessions that require little more from the player than to explore and survey the area. Of course, TOEM allows for plenty of player involvement and creativity. You’ll even unlock additional features for your swanky camera as you progress. But it never really extends itself beyond its basic core loop and nor does it really need to.
TOEM is very much a casual game. Its visuals, while offering complex and detailed environments and characters, are entirely monochromatic. Its gameplay, while interesting and boundlessly creative, is rigid in its simplicity. As a result, it succeeds at being a phenomenal entry into the ever-growing casual genre. It accomplishes the seemingly impossible and incredibly infrequent task of being simultaneously easy to grasp and understand while never lacking meaningful depth.
“I felt a sense of pride in each and every photograph, which was in due part thanks to the incredible vistas I could capture.”
TOEM’s depth is mainly found in its characters, writing and environments. While you bound around the large segmented areas, you’ll encounter all manner of intriguing folk. Each one of them offers snippets of funny or quirky dialogue that help bring to life a very cartoony world. That’s not to say TOEM isn’t without its sentimentality nor heartwarming moments. More so that TOEM perfectly matches its tone and sense of humour to the cartoony aesthetic that permeates through much of its visual style.
TOEM’s environmental design is pretty phenomenal too. Each environment you explore is rich and packed full of small minute details. Whether it’s swaying bushes, an axe spliced between two halves of a tree trunk or a ghostly apparition floating around some plant pots, there’s plenty to see and uncover as you explore. Each vignette offers some interesting discovery that leaves you with the elating sensation of never knowing quite what to expect. The ability to alter the isometric camera angle also allows for an even greater amount of discovery.
However, I found it was in the photography that TOEM displayed its greatest layer of depth. While it relies heavily on the player’s imagination, TOEM still offers a plethora of interesting locales and inhabitants as backdrops to your photographs. Getting the perfect angle, even for less interesting tasks, was always a priority. I felt a sense of pride in each and every photograph, which was in due part thanks to the incredible vistas I could capture.
“After a long day of work, playing TOEM was an incredibly uplifting and hopeful experience.”
My only gripe with TOEM is that some of its puzzles are a little too obtuse. Each mission requires you to capture a specific object or interact with a specific thing in a certain way. However, some mission descriptions are far too vague to offer a meaningful solution to a problem. I found that there was a mission or two that I struggled to gauge what exactly it wanted of me. After snapping shots of practically everything in each location, and even staring wistfully into the distance in the hopes of interacting with something I’d missed, I eventually gave up. This isn’t a problem with the majority of missions in TOEM, but it’s worth noting regardless.
TOEM is one of those rare games that can genuinely distract you from your dreary life. Similar to how Cozy Grove perfected the pick-up and play mentality, TOEM offers players a brief respite where they can soak in a little bit of nature and take snazzy photographs. After a long day of work, playing TOEM was an incredibly uplifting and hopeful experience. Despite some slight confusion regarding certain puzzles, it is a mostly laidback title that asks very little of the player other than to sit back and relax. For those looking for a short and chilled out game to unwind to, TOEM might just be for you.
*Disclaimer: Reviewed on PC, code was provided by the Publisher.