If you were to ask me how to define the year 2021 in regards to video games, I would unequivocally label it as the year of fantastic indies. While some of these smaller games have reached the heights of game of the year conversation, others have provided bite-sized weekend experiences full of charm and delight. I feel like 2021 more than any other year has provided smaller teams the opportunity to showcase some of their games to a wider audience more than they ever have. This is both due to the avalanche of AAA game delays as well as the big platform holders providing more of a spotlight on these titles than ever before. Because of this I’ve played more indies this year than any year in recent memory and have had a fantastic experience with many of them.
TOEM is the most recent notch on my belt and from the moment I saw it spotlighted on the Nintendo Indie Showcase I knew this game would be for me. As the resident Mega Dads photo mode enthusiast it didn’t take long for a game all about photography to pique my interest. TOEM: A Photo Adventure is all about a young Fraggle looking character going out to see the world and photograph it along the way.
You begin TOEM in your home as your mother gives you a brief exposition about how when she was young she took the same journey in which you are about to. This expedition is something of a rite-of-passage that members of your family embark on when they’re young. Now it’s your turn to see the world on your own for the first time. She gives you a camera, a destination and warm regards to send you on your way. From there you head to the bus stop and await your ride which will bring you to a small handful of bus terminals along the way. Your bus will drop you off to allow you to see and photograph the sites as your road trip takes you to your ultimate destination.
TOEM breaks your journey up into levels by giving you a task list to complete in your trusted notebook. As you are dropped at each bus station you must interact with the people at your stop and complete tasks for them which almost always involve photography in one way or another. Once you have completed a task your are gifted a stamp for your notebook and upon collection of enough of these stamps you will receive a ticket to ride the bus to your next stop. This not only creates an effective and easy to follow workflow for your achievements, but it also encourages you to go back to previous destinations if you happen to be a completionist.
No task is overly complicated or challenging and each character in the world is overflowing with quirky personality which makes each odd job incredibly fun to do and always drives you to want to go the next task. From helping the local food truck bring in more customers, to doing freelance photography at the fashion show, to helping a pirate find their lost hat, each job is wildly different and whimsical.
In fact I would say that almost all of the joy of TOEM comes from the incredible sense of personality and character that the game exhibits. From the monochromatic, hand drawn aesthetic of the world, to the colorful characters you encounter and the delightfully minimalistic soundtrack, everything in TOEM just feels good and encourages a smile to take up residence on your face almost the entire time that you play. There’s a place in everyone’s game library for something that encourages and instills good feelings at such a steady pace like TOEM: A Photo Adventure.
While there’s nothing overly complicated about the mechanics, or the plot, and while your play time only lasts around 4 hours or so, It’s impossible not to recommend a game like TOEM because it’s just an absolute delight to play. When I finally reached my destination in the game and achieved all I needed to do, I found myself flipping through the pages of the photo album which houses all the pictures I took on my journey from my front door to the peek of a snowy mountain. I saw characters with smiles on their faces, animals playing in the flowers, funny moments that I snapped on a whim, and so much more. We should all be so lucky to look back on our own journeys with such fondness and kind regard.