I want to watch this game. That might seem an odd sentiment to hold, with videogames being an interactive experience, but I truly want to watch this game. It’s the bastard child of a puzzle game and a bullet-hell style shooter, but there’s a vast reserve of charm and humour for anyone who can persevere with the more difficult puzzles.
Let me start by clarifying the reason I want to sit on my couch and watch the game. It’s the cut-scenes. They are gorgeously animated, funny and reminiscent of every good show from my childhood. They’re Dexter’s Laboratory with better animation. Don’t believe me? Have a look at the introductory cut scene.
It’s not a deep plot, full of philosophical insight and the pretentiousness that indie games have become associated with. Dr X is fired, after his years of service in the city he designed, by a cadre of men you know are evil due to their black suits and shades. Of course, you are playing the very archetype of a mad scientist, so evil is perhaps a relative term, but the point still holds. Black suits and shades always equal bad. Or that aliens are near, but that’s a whole other article. Rejected by the city he built, Dr X decides to destroy that which he wrought by releasing a virus upon the city. A virus, as you might have guessed, named TOM. A cute, almost cephalopod bundle of horror and destruction for the citizens that had benefited so much from Dr X’s inventions.
It’s as TOM that you’ll be completing these puzzles. The basic premise is a grid of wires that, when connected correctly, will allow energy to flow through to spread TOM further. If you’ve ever played the hacking mini-game from the Bioshock series, you’ll understand exactly what is meant. It is, essentially, a series of pipes that need to be connected together correctly. To flip round the pieces of wire, TOM must circle them while holding down the appropriate button, Space if you’re using the keyboard (and although the game recommends at the beginning that you use an Xbox 360 controller, trust me, the keyboard controls work just as well). When flipped into the right position, energy flows through and once energy is across the entire circuit, the level is complete. The puzzles ramp up very quickly in difficulty though, so don’t get complacent. Later levels introduce anti-viruses roaming the levels, that will drain TOM of his energy bar (which acts as a timer) if they touch him. They can only be destroyed through careful positioning of traps, with the anti-viruses being knocked out of action if the trap causes two of them to collide. They also introduce encryption, where parts of (or the entirety of) the level will become hidden as question marks, only showing you the type and position of pipe when hooked up to the energy. The difficulty curve may perhaps be a little steep, but the challenges are not insurmountable, merely ruddy difficult.
There’s a leaderboard (not yet fully implemented in-game), a versus mode and even a co-operative mode. Unfortunately, all that’s currently on offer is local co-op with two players at each keyboard (or with separate Xbox 360 controllers) which I wasn’t able to test fully, though I did give it a go by myself. It’s easy to get angry with the other player in co-op games if they’re not performing as well as you’d hope and it’s confusing and even more enraging when that lesser player is you. Last time I play with that mouthy sod, I can tell you.
Currently in beta, you can pre-order A Virus Named TOM over at the official site, giving you access to the beta and all full versions when released. It’s only $5 at the moment, which is an absolute steal for a game so full of humour, charm and some of the trickiest puzzles I’ve seen for a very long time. So go without that pint, put down that expensive magazine you’ll never read and instead pick up A Virus Named TOM. You’ll be glad you did.