Developer: Tim Keenan, Misfits Attic
Disgruntled employees can be a nightmare, especially when they're insane scientists with a penchant for advanced AI programming. After building the world of the future - complete with robotic dogs, tin foil suits and teleporters - all poor old Dr. X wanted to do was create an enormous robot laser that annihilates everyone stupid enough to stray outside. Was that too much to ask?
Evidently it was. Made redundant and stripped of his royalties, Doctor X has one last present for the ungrateful world: an intelligent computer virus designed to corrupt all of his creations and devastate the blissful utopia. Controlling this adorable yet devastating piece of computer code, we'll infest, corrupt and destroy everything in our path. Either alone, with friends or against them.
At a basic level, A Virus Named TOM is all about rotating tiles. Gameplay takes place on a rectangular grid filled with circuit tiles, along which the eponymous TOM can navigate using the horizontal and lateral gridlines. The aim of the game is to connect up the entirety of the grid so that the infection can spread throughout the mainframe, a lot like BioShock's hacking minigame in that regard. Working out the most efficient way to complete each set of connections becomes an addictive second job, with more valuable medals doled out at higher score thresholds.
Of course, things don't stay simple for long. Defence drones soon start hounding your every move, while encryption can hide the true contents of a tile until it's rotated in the correct orientation. Using a tight and relevant selection of new abilities, such as glitch barriers that block and even destroy roving drones, provides plenty of hectic moment-to-moment action, facilitated by a slick and intuitive control scheme (native gamepad support is included along with serviceable keyboard inputs).
These new elements make A Virus Named TOM a pleasingly varied puzzle experience; one that caters to both reflexes and forward planning. Solutions require a neat mix of frantic trial & error, some perfectly-timed manoeuvres and a couple of genuine 'Eureka Moments' where a seemingly impossible situation becomes child's play when you approach it in a different way. Coupled with an attractive clear interface and a humorous 50s aesthetic, not to mention a weighty number of missions, it's impossible not to recommend this indie puzzler to anyone with an interest in the genre. A little more thematic variation between levels, in visual terms, would have been appreciated though.
In our experience, local multiplayer tends to make everything better, so we were delighted to discover that A Virus Named TOM is fully supported with a dedicated cooperative campaign. Much like Twisted Pixel's Splosion Man, this is the way it's meant to be played. The harmonious joy of working together to complete a difficult puzzle is quickly subverted by an end-of-level ranking screen that grades players by value, meaning that cleverly tripping up your mates with Glitches or racing for the most valuable tiles becomes as important as coordinating strategy. Online functionality would have been nice (it was sadly impossible to implement due to time constraints and family circumstances, such is the practical reality of indie development), but we far prefer playing with/against people in the same room or on the same couch. To revel in their reactions, as much as anything.
An addictive competitive mode is also present, which essentially plays out like a bizarre mash-up between Qix and Bomberman. 1-4 virii compete to delimit as much of each map as possible, vying for control of the biggest amount of territory possible within a tight time limit. Players can cheekily poach rival areas by killing their owners with Glitch bombs, making for a stressful and unpredictable affair.
- Accessible, deep and versatile puzzles
- Pleasing mix of cerebral strategy and action
- Brilliant cooperative campaign and local competitive multiplayer
- Online multiplayer would have been nice
- In-game visuals are slightly repetitive, more stylistic variation would have been appreciated
The Short Version: A Virus Named TOM is an accessible fusion of brainpower and thumb-caning precision, packing both polished quality and an impressive amount of quality for solo players and social gamers alike. A thoroughly worthwhile and addictive purchase.