Review for TOEM
One of the best things about Nintendo’s New Pokémon Snap releasing recently is that it has since opened the floodgates for a new trend of photography games. One such game is Something We Made’s TOEM, a short but delightful trek through a black-and-white isometric world that is easy to get the hang of and proves to be a wonderfully calming escapist journey while it lasts.
TOEM’s playable character is probably best described as an anthropomorphic sheep wearing headphones and a balaclava. They don’t have a name or gender, but they’re definitely not human. They are, however, very cute, and always willing to go around and help those in need, which makes for a sympathetic protagonist we’re happy to root for. Few of the other characters have names either, and none have detailed backstories, but it’s clear that everyone you meet is just looking for a helping hand in a crazy world. Whether that’s a ghost horse who wants to know what he looked like when he was alive or a former pirate queen who’s lost her hat, there’s a wide array of quirky characters to meet and help out on your journey.
The plot follows the main character, who is given a camera by their Nana and told to venture out into the world to find and take a picture of the phenomenon called Toem. What is Toem, exactly? Neither you nor the character are sure at the start, but the mystery is well worth the wait. In order to get from one region to another to find out, you need to get a stamped bus card at each new location. Stamps are acquired by assisting the local populace with a variety of tasks, from finding lucky socks to photographing street art for a gang. Along the way you can also fill up your photo compendium by taking pictures of the local wildlife, as well as collect lo-fi music tracks and even assorted accessories to jazz up your sheepish avatar.
TOEM only takes about two to three hours to complete if you proceed as soon as you have the necessary stamps, but you can stay longer or even return after the credits have rolled to finish up all of the citizen requests, photo guild challenges and clothes collecting. Or you can simply wander around at your leisure, taking snapshots of whatever strikes your fancy at the time. The bus system allows you to go back to any previous location you have visited, if you wish, without collecting new stamps.
The PC controls for TOEM are quite simple, though I would recommend a mouse instead of a trackpad if possible, simply for ease of use. (Gamepads are also supported.) Everything except for pulling up the menu is controlled this way, and a tutorial at the beginning walks you through the mechanics and how to operate your camera correctly. Clicking and dragging the isometric game screen will rotate it so you can better view your environment. Left-clicking moves your character through the world and interacts with hotspots, and the on-screen backpack icon lets you access your clothes, photo album, a community card – which keeps track of your requests received and completed – and your Hikelady music player. Or you can simply right-click to bring up a wheel that lets you quickly access all the same things except for the clothes and a few accessories, as well as one more piece of equipment that you pick up in your travels that I’ll leave you to discover for yourself. While taking pictures in first person close-up is easy to do, there’s no penalty for messing up your shot as you can simply choose to not save the photo and redo it as many times as you’d like.
The “puzzles” here take the form of picture challenges or fetch quests. Some people you speak to will request that you bring them certain snapshots or occasionally items. While most are just a matter of finding the right thing in the world to photograph, a few are a bit trickier and require you to complete other challenges first. However, as long as you keep accomplishing the objectives you currently can, you’ll eventually be able to finish them all without much difficulty. Occasionally you’re required to take pictures at more than one location, such as photographing a mysterious individual whenever you come across them in each new place. Each bus destination is fairly large and spread across several screens, though there are quick-travel spots where you can take a taxi or ferry to cover large distances easily.
As you travel from Oaklaville to Stanhamn and beyond, you’ll journey through several unique environments ranging from a forest to a big city, with each new location offering a new cast of characters to assist and plenty of new things to see. Wherever you go, the art style is an interesting one. It’s a grayscale world, devoid of color but with a charming, simple aesthetic. Like an animated cartoon, it uses chunky lines and an abundance of textures to bring the settings to life, coupled with plenty of background motion. From smoking chimneys to skiing birds, the environments are constantly alive even when you stop, which can make taking photos all the more interesting. When you rotate the screen, anything that is 2D rotates as well so that it’s always facing you, which sounds conspicuous but actually blends nicely with the 3D effect of the rest of the world and makes it feel like a storybook come to life.
Your Hikelady player that keeps you company throughout your journey plays a variety of relaxing, lo-fi songs by bands like Launchable Socks, contributing to the peaceful feel of the adventure. Tracks can be changed at any time, and additional tunes can be unlocked by visiting new places and completing certain requirements. The music melds nicely with the sound effects elicited by changing your shoes in-game – yep, you can hear different footsteps as the protagonist walks around, be it in clogs, sneakers or a single wet sock. There isn’t any voice acting, but different effects are used to simulate the sounds of them “talking.”
Overall, TOEM is a wonderful photography-focused experience, with easy-to-use controls, chill lo-fi beats, and an interesting world full of charm and whimsy to explore. My biggest complaint is simply that it’s too short. While it’s not meant to be an epic adventure, this is a world that I would love to stay in longer and see more of, whether through DLC levels or a sequel of some kind. Relaxing and light-hearted games like this hit just the right spot with so much gloom in the world today, and TOEM is so much fun while it lasts that I can recommend it without hesitation.