In the past year or so, as we’ve gone through a pandemic and other struggles, it’s become apparent to me just how powerful a force for good something comforting can be. It’s the reason that funerals often beget hot dishes and the reason why I reach for a fuzzy blanket, my furry friend and some guilty pleasure TV when I’m down. And just like food, pets, and Netflix can provide a sense of cozy comfort, there are games that provide the same. We saw it in peak pandemic with Animal Crossing, and I think, as we approach an uncertain fall and winter, you may find it with the adorable photographic adventure Toem, which we previewed earlier this year.
At its heart, Toem is a coming of age tale. You’ll play as a child who’s finally reached an age where they are able to be trusted to safely explore the world around them. Your grandmother celebrates this milestone by sitting you down to look a photo album filled with her own adventures from days past, including her journey to the mountains to experience a northern lights sort of phenomenon known as Toem. She gifts you with her vintage camera (with dynamic zoom!) and sends you off on your own quest to the mountains to experience it for yourself.
As Toem is a photo adventure, the camera is central to every aspect of gameplay. Your job is to document everything from animal life to mysterious happenings in all the places you visit, and solve various puzzles and dilemmas for villagers and various townsfolk along the way. Most of the time, puzzles involve finding and photographing objects, but can also include small fetch quests or using the camera’s zoom as a way to spot danger in the distance.
In short, the gameplay isn’t complex. However, Toem’s world is a gorgeous, adorable hand drawn place that while black and white, is filled with a rich variety of characters who range from surly and somewhat crazy to sweet and silly. As you take the bus from location to location, you’ll learn more about the people and the world around you, and gain deeper insight into its mysteries. And though most puzzles revolve around taking pictures, the puzzles themselves are a mixture of quick and easy grab-and-go shots and more complex and interesting puzzles that require a brain for riddles to solve.
You’ll also acquire equipment as you explore, as quest rewards and in discoverable gifts strewn about the countryside. Almost all items have a stated purpose, but only some are useful in quests. Most of these gifts and equipment are clothing related, and different hats can grant you access to different locations you can’t otherwise get in, like exclusive events or deep dives under the ocean waves. Some are for your camera, and can help you get past various obstacles. There are also other collectibles, like cassette tapes featuring some of Toem’s excellent soundtrack.
Though I did experience a few moments of hitching in my playthrough on Nintendo Switch, for the most part the experience was smooth . The UI is simple but intuitive for the most part, but I sometimes found the quick access wheel a little finicky when trying to make a selection. My only other gripe is that the album fills up, requiring you to go back and delete things towards the end of the game, a multi-step endeavor which represented the only real time I experienced tedium with Toem.
Overall though, Toem is a cozy, slow-TV sort of experience. There’s lots to explore, and plenty of little things to go chasing after, like portraits of all the various named cats that roam Toem’s world or “foil” type animal shots. There’s mysteries that are just intriguing enough to chase down from level to level, mini games and surprising encounters. Every time I fired up Toem, I knew I was in for something relaxing but engaging all at once, and liable to be smiling or even laughing as I wandered its world. By the end, when I reached the mountaintops, I was wistful for just a little more time and a few more adventures. And to me, that makes Toem a journey I’d highly recommend.
A Nintendo Switch key was provided to us for the purposes of this review.
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