A Virus Named TOM recently graced the Vita with its presence last week, as it became April’s offering as the free digital title in the PlayStation Plus line-up.
Originally released on Steam in 2012 by developer and publisher Misfits Attic, it has certainly taken an extraordinary amount of time for the port (which was originally announced in 2013) to reach Sony’s handheld. But arrived it has therefore it now falls to me to tell you whether or not this indie action puzzler is worth your time. So join me now as we delve into A Virus Named TOM….
AVNT starts off very promising indeed and unlike a lot of other puzzle games on the market actually contains a story line with cutscenes separating the action every ten or so levels. The premise of the game is quite unique and gets to the point straight away. In a future that is visually reminiscent of the classic 60’s cartoon series The Jetsons, we are introduced to a supposedly perfect world in which the creations of Dr. X have brought about a time of prosperity for the human race. Robot dogs alleviate the need for picking up dog poop, holographic suits mean that people can look however they want and automated sidewalks completely negate the need for physically walking anywhere.
However when Dr. X gets fired from the very company he works for, on the grounds of insanity, he hatches a diabolical scheme to get back at MegaTech. He creates a (you’ve guessed it) virus named TOM, which he sends out to infect and sabotage the inventions that society has become so reliant upon.
And this dear player is where the meat and potatoes of the game lie. As TOM you basically have to create an unbroken stream of green virus across a circuit board. I think a suitable metaphor would be for you to imagine a toy train set lying in disarray before you and it is up to you to fix the track so there no gaps in it allowing a current to run smoothly from point A to B.
Controlling TOM is done on a grid based map and as you approach a piece of circuitry you hold the X button to move around the perimeter of the piece and thus rotate it. It sounds simple enough however MegaTech are onto you instantly and in a bid to stay one step ahead of you they are constantly updating and upgrading their virus defence systems in order to combat you. The obstacles they place in your path vary from super fast indestructible drones, hiding the shape of a specific puzzle piece under a question mark or even keeping some puzzle pieces locked in place forcing you to complete the task in a specific way.
TOM however is by no means completely defenceless himself. Occasionally you will receive an upgrade from Dr. X bestowing your virus with new abilities. Very early on TOM gains the ability to drop glitches in the path of drones, with the effect of either slowing them down or destroying them completely if two collide at the same time. Another example of a handy upgrade would be the fact that later in the game when the time limits become more stringent, TOM can steal energy carried by enemy drones in order to add seconds to the timer.
On paper AVNT sound like it ticks all the boxes to become a stone cold classic on the Vita. Unfortunately that just isn’t the case. It’s kind of hard to put into words but there is just something missing here. Some hook, some (excuse the pun) piece of the puzzle just doesn’t seem to fit.
Apart from the wonderfully stylised cutscenes that positively ooze charm, the puzzle portions of AVNT feel quite stale and uninspiring in comparison. If you were to put a screenshot from the game and a screenshot of a cutscene next to each other I doubt you would be able to tell that they are from the same title.
Seriously, everything in the game itself just feels so bland and bare bones. Completing a level doesn’t reward you with a fist pumping moment of awesomeness that games like Super Stardust, Peggle or Resogun do. There is no fanfare, no visual reward for your triumph – the screen simply wipes to green and takes you back to the level select. Although this may not sound like a big deal, for a pick up and play puzzle game I believe it is. There has to be something in place to make you want to push on and try the next level, having the odd upgrade bestowed upon TOM doesn’t feel like enough incentive to keep playing.
Another problem with the game is the difficulty. Now don’t get me wrong I love a challenge and love tough games such as Super Meat Boy and Hotline Miami. But after doing some research it seems that for some inexplicable reason the level progression has been remixed for this Vita port. What this means is that the difficulty spikes up and down all over the place meaning that the natural gentle difficulty curve you get in most games of the genre gets thrown out of the window in favour for what is, honestly, quite a jarring experience. This in turn feels as if it’s robbing the game of its identity as levels now feel slapped together without much thought for how this will impact the players enjoyment.
Finally I do also take some umbrage with the music. I’m not going to lie but I quickly resorted to playing the game with the sound firmly off after about half an hour of playing. I tried to bear with it for as long as possible but the constant techno dub did become too much for my ears to cope with, it just sounds obnoxious after a while – and I swear to god if I have to hear the mechanical whine TOM emits every time he dies or runs out of time I am straight up going to infect the Vita with a virus myself!
Now I know it probably sounds like I’m being harder on this game than it deserves and you’re probably right. I really would like to stress that AVNT is not a bad game. It just really really lacks in originality, and honestly, it feels like the kind of by the numbers puzzle game that would get released on the App Store, be a hot download for a week and then get swiftly forgotten about as the following weeks titles drown it out.
A Virus Named TOM is available to download on the PlayStation Store now for free if you are a PS+ subscriber. If you’re not a subscriber I don’t think I could ever recommend paying for this over the Vita’s already robust puzzle game catalogue.