Every so often, a game comes along that just resonates with me perfectly. Titles like Night in the Woods, A Short Hike, Animal Crossing… you know, games that do something a little bit different to the norm, but that are utterly charming and offer a worthwhile adventure that feels meaningful. TOEM, the upcoming release from developer Something We Made, is the latest title that felt perfect for me, with its whimsical photography escapade one that I had a delightful time playing.
It has inspired me to get back into photography too, though I don’t think the pictures that I capture will be quite as quirky and fun as the ones I took in the game.
Check out a gallery of screenshots for the game down below:
TOEM puts players into the role of a youngster who ventures off on a journey across the land with their camera, with their goal being to reach the highest peak in order to take a photograph of a mysterious phenomenon known only as TOEM. With your grandmother, someone who has completed the journey herself, seeing you off and showing you the ropes of photography, you head through an assortment of charming locales where you’ll meet a bunch of peculiar folk, explore your surroundings, and, of course, take photographs.
Players can only move between different locations when they’ve collected enough bus fare, which is represented in game by stamps. How do you earn stamps? By completing little jobs for the people you meet, with each level of the game made up of a bunch of little puzzles to complete that involve photography. Whilst the game takes place from a top-down perspective, using your camera shifts the action to a first-person perspective where players get a clear view of everything that’s in front of them.
“There’s simply no denying that the puzzle design is incredibly creative and varied, with little clues often found in the environment that point you in the right direction.”
Some of those jobs you complete will be simple, with players expected to take a photo of something in the environment or find some missing object. Others are a bit more complex though and will require a bit of exploration and clever thinking from the player. One example of this was displayed quite early on, when I had to help someone find a tune to whistle; I did this by taking a picture of the musical notes being sung out of the mouth of a nearby sailor. Another time I had to take a promotional picture of a hotel, but I had to do it from a far-off distance to capture the whole building; I did this by having some little creatures help get rid of a log that was blocking my path to a nearby viewpoint. Alternatively, some creatures you need to snap photos of won’t even show up unless the right conditions are in place, so you have to consider that at times too. It’s all part of the fun of being a photographer.
Nothing you do in the game is ever overly complex, but solving these little puzzles will often require you to think outside of the box. There’s simply no denying that the puzzle design is incredibly creative and varied, with little clues often found in the environment that point you in the right direction. Nothing is ever frustratingly obtuse, but you’ll still have plenty of ‘eureka’ moments when you figure out what you need to do. It just shows how much thought and attention went into crafting both the puzzles and the world, with each little conundrum you solve always proving to be satisfying.
“There was something about being in the world that made me embrace the art of photography and I often had fun simply taking pictures of the sights around me.”
One thing that I noticed when playing was that I often had already taken pictures of the objects that were required of me, which is a testament to TOEM’s world design. If I saw something slightly unusual, I’d snap a shot. If I saw something that was pretty, I’d snap a shot. Or heck, if I thought it’d be cool to have a selfie with someone, I’d snap a shot. There was something about being in the world that made me embrace the art of photography and I often had fun simply taking pictures of the sights around me. The fact they often helped complete missions for folk was just a bonus.
Players will also unlock additional items as they progress, with equipment giving your camera extra functions (such as the horn that allows you to ‘honk’ at nearby folk to startle them) and new clothing allowing you to reach new areas. You can’t expect to go deep sea diving for treasure without a diving helmet, after all, whilst the Ghosts that you need to help won’t be visible unless you’re wearing the ghost glasses. It all adds to the puzzling elements of the game and keeps things varied as you progress between levels, whilst players can also unlock some clothing which is just used for cosmetic purposes. Nothing screams ‘stylish’ quite like a soggy sock and a foam finger, right?
“Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed my time exploring the world, an extra level would’ve been nice… maybe we can look forward to some DLC in the future?”
One thing that’ll really stand out about TOEM is its monochromatic visual style. Whilst a black-and-white aesthetic does feel like a slightly peculiar choice for a game about capturing the beauty of the world in photographs, it actually works really well in-game. Environments are packed to the brim with charming little details that help them feel alive, whilst the wacky inhabitants that wander around will feel like friends by the time your adventure is over. By the end, I didn’t even notice the absence of colour around me; I was just full invested in the whimsical world, with each photograph I snapped feeling like a work of art.
I just wish there was a bit more of it to explore. TOEM isn’t a long game, with it easily beaten in roughly three hours, and that’s after completing all of its objectives and snapping up photos of the majority of little creatures found wandering in the environment. Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed my time exploring the world, an extra level would’ve been nice… maybe we can look forward to some DLC in the future?
I can’t end this review without mentioning the sound design, with plenty of ambient noises on show that help the world feel lived in and a soundtrack on offer which was packed with delightful tunes that fit the imaginative vibe of the world perfectly. You can actually have you own Walkman of sorts (known as the creatively named ‘Hikelady’) so can play any of the tracks you want at your leisure, with ‘A Place in the Sun’ standing out as one of my favourites when exploring.
TOEM is a blissful adventure that will keep players enthralled from start to end thanks to its whimsical world and clever photography-puzzling. I loved exploring each locale and meeting the folk of the world, whilst snapping up photographs to solve the many puzzles never stopped being fun. It was a little bit disappointing that the game is on the short side, but the few hours you do spend with it will be delightful.
– A wonderfully whimsical world to explore
– Clever puzzles that are fun to solve
– Great sound design that fits the game perfectly
– It’s over too soon
Developer: Something We Made
Publisher: Something We Made
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 5, PC