A snap-happy, wonderous adventure.
The last few games I’ve played (Death’s Door, Hellblade and Spiritfarer) have mainly dealt with death, mental health issues, and helping characters to the afterlife. Although each of these games are excellent in their own right and have given me experiences that will not be forgotten, I was starting to feel a little fatigue with the darker games or dealing with death – I needed a game that was full of charm, with a plentiful supply of cheeriness and certainly no visits from the grim reaper. Along came TOEM, which ticked all those boxes.
TOEM is developed by Something We Made, a small Swedish independent company with just three games to their name, including TOEM. What impressed me most is that I expected TOEM to be quite a simple game, both visually and from a gameplay perspective, but I was proven wrong, as Something We Made has managed to succeed in including a ton of content while also giving the world more detail than I first thought.
So, what is TOEM all about? You control a young protagonist who is now of an age where they can go and explore the world and experience the majestic sight of TOEM. You are sent on your way by your Grandma, who gives you a camera to capture your experiences. You explore four main areas, including a woodland, a seaside town, a bustling city, and a snow covered mountain resort. You must earn a different number of stamps from each area, which are collected onto a card given to you at the beginning of the game to be eligible for a ‘free’ bus ride to the next area.
Stamps are earned through completing tasks given to you by the many characters you find on your journey. These tasks can range from taking pictures of certain items, finding a missing sock, helping someone who’s stuck in a sewer or helping a yeti with a problem. The tasks also range in difficulty – some are quite simple to complete, but they can ramp up in difficulty, and at one pointI was completely bamboozled. I think I made my bald patch worse from the scratching I gave my head! Saying that, I was impressed with the range of tasks I found, as I thought going into TOEM it was going to be a basic photography game where I was just completing an album. ith the range of tasks and challenges, it really gave me a sense of wanting to complete each area before moving on.
Each area shares some of the same tasks involving finding a mysterious cube which helps you in various ways, finding a suspicious hiding character hiding,and photo guild challenges. These consist of talking to a member of the guild (there are two in each area) and they share a group of tasks that you need to complete to earn a stamp. These tasks, much like the others, can range from easy to some that are really vague -I still have no clue as to what some of them mean or how to complete them. It certainly ramps up the challenge factor, but looking back at those vague tasks, I think I would have liked some small clues to point me in the right direction.
One thing I love about TOEM is its graphical style. In complete black and white, you’d be forgiven for thinking the game was quite basic visually, and I wasn’t expecting the level of detail that the developers managed to include. From fires that crackled in the corner of a room to rain and snow hitting the lens of your camera, or just sitting on an office chair that you can swirl around on as you would in real life, Each area was crammed with detail. I could feel the atmosphere of the areas I was in, and it really helped with becoming immersed in this calming and jolly world. Each area is displayed as a smallish isometric square which you can revolve around, and this helps to easily explore, uncovering secrets and hidden paths that you can’t see from certain angles.
The camera itself is simple, but it’s all you need. You can zoom in and out, flip the screen to take selfies, and even unlock upgrades to your camera like a horn and an umbrella as you progress. You are given a tripod to use during the game which gives you the ability to leave your camera, and this really helps with some of the tasks. There’sa satisfying sound when you take a picture, and you are given the option to delete or keep it before moving on. The pictures are stored in an album which can hold 128 pictures, and thankfully, you can delete those dodgy pictures you took at the beginning of the game.
“You want to reach out to your photo album to relive your own memories through pictures, which is quite a powerful emotion to experience from a little game like this.”
Another feature of the album is the compendium section. Throughout the game there are a ton of animals and insects, and if you take pictures of them as you discover them, these pictures will be stored here. It was a fun distraction to try and complete this section, and you did come across animals in some interesting positions. All the controls in the game – from flipping through the photo album, to using the camera, to controlling your character – all feel intuitive. The quick access menu using the buttons on the left joy con was very handy, and never did the controls feel cumbersome.
Some other fun elements of TOEM include various clothing and hat options (which can help you to access certain parts of the games), a Walkman that allows you to play cassettes given to you throughout the story, and an in-game achievement system, which doesn’t give you any additional rewards (as far as I know) but is a nice touch. Taking pictures of certain items or in certain spots will also result in a ‘special photo’, which comes out glittery and sports a shiny border.,
TOEM’s music makes for the perfect companion to its gameplay. All the tracks featured are chilled, calming pieces, but they manage to make you feel part of the area you’re in. The music comes and goes, leaving a silence interspersed with ambient sounds, like the birds chirping or leaves rustling in the wind. With the option of the Walkman it really feels like the music is just as important as taking pictures.
I don’t have too many negative things to say about TOEM. It runs well on the Switch Lite I used, I came across no lagging or jittering, and the whole experience was mostly a smooth one.
Saying all that, I did experience an issue during my playthrough where the game froze on me twice, both in the same area but on different tasks. Both times I had to restart my Switch to get it going again, and the first time took me a few tries to finally complete the task (which was one you had to do to progress in the game) and move on. I tried to look this up but nothing seems to have been reported, so I can only assume it was a local issue to me. I still find this slightly strange, but as I write this a patch has just been released for the PC (with a Switch patch on the way) so hopefully this won’t be an issue going forwards.
I’m not one for photo games normally – you won’t find me on PokémonSnap – but I think that’s why I like TOEM so much. There’s no grading of photos or any other mechanic apart from taking simple photos and helping people out. What this achieves, however, is that it makes you think about your own personal journeys as you’re playing the game. You want to reach out to your photo album to relive your own memories through pictures, which is quite a powerful emotion to experience from a little game like this. I want to go back and mop up all the tasks I didn’t finish, and I always take that as a sign of a good game, as with the majority I don’t normally bother. With all the other content this game contains, it’s a wonderful package that will make you smile, happy, relaxed and nostalgic for your own memories, and it makes for the perfect way to wind down after a hectic day.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch, also available now on PlayStation 5, and PC.
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