Release Date: Sep. 17, 2021
Developer: Something We Made
Platform: PlayStation 5[Played], Nintendo Switch, PC
I have a real soft spot for the developing sub-genre of wholesome video games. I love the cute little indie games about going on a walk and meeting nice people. Perhaps my favorite of these games is “A Short Hike,” which was released in 2019, could be completed in less than two hours, and followed a bird who has to climb a mountain to get reception for their phone. It’s just a good time. I picked up “Toem” because I heard it had similar vibes.
I enjoyed “Toem,” but not as much as I expected to. It’s very cute, it’s got fun characters with silly problems, but its lack of a real core storyline really left me wanting more.
“Toem” is about a low-stakes adventure to see the titular toem, described as a natural phenomenon. It’s not made clear what exactly a toem is until the final moments of the game when the player does get to see it. The player controls a nameless being of uncertain species who is given a camera and sent on their way to see the toem by their mother, who made the same trip when she was young. To get there, players have to complete tasks and favors for people throughout each environment to earn stamps to redeem for free bus rides.
Reaching the toem is the central objective of the game and its protagonist. Where I found myself struggling with the story is that after the brief introduction where the player is sent off to see toem, it’s never mentioned again. In fact, there is no real narrative throughline. Characters are introduced, each with a problem that needs solving, and then they give the player a stamp, none stick around or influence any greater storyline.
These characters are fun, like a news editor who demands pictures of the most newsworthy thing in town (his own mustache), but at no point is an effort made to tie the experience together. Helping the other characters ostensibly helps the player with progressing their adventure, but the use of stamps as a metric of progression left me feeling disconnected from the accomplishment.
Even when seeing the toem at the end of the game, I was surprised and impressed by the visual spectacle, but the player character looks on blankly without any reaction. I took a couple of pictures of it, then turned right back around and descended the mountain.
I enjoyed my time with “Toem,” laughed at its jokes, but I didn’t take anything away from the experience.
Almost every puzzle in the game is solved by taking pictures using the protagonist’s camera. The photography system in the game is pretty impressive, shifting the entire perspective of the game from an isometric top-down adventure game to a first-person view. The player is asked to take pictures of all sorts of stuff, and it was fun to go looking for the right subjects to photograph. A few of the puzzles get a little obtuse, but fortunately, the player doesn’t need to complete every objective in an area before progressing, so challenging puzzles can be skipped and returned to later.
An optional objective available throughout the game is the completion of a picture codex of every animal in the game. I got pretty into the idea of filling it out and went out of my way to make sure I got a photo of every animal I saw. Beyond just a standard array of cute animals, the pets of each of the developers can be found and photographed for the codex as well, like Gen Miller’s dachshund Portillo who can be found in the big city.
“Toem” is a fun little puzzler to play, though I found its narrative shallow. It only took around four hours for me to complete the game entirely with all achievements. Players looking for a nice, low-impact puzzler could certainly find a lot of fun in the game.