It’s one thing to call a game “small”, perhaps referring to its length or something about its quaint aesthetic. But TOEM, a game about photography pleasure, is small in the way that a snow-covered winter cabin is small, or a sleeping cat is small, or a cube-shaped cheese plate and thinly sliced meats. it is small. It is small in its entirety; pristine, complete and accurate. It’s perfect for snuggling under a blanket on a quiet night with a scented candle and a cup of cocoa to finish off in one sitting.
TOEM begins with smallness on the premises: a young protagonist, equipped only with a camera that his mother gave him and a pair of clogs, is now old enough to travel through his little world from top to bottom, in black and white to see the sights, take photos and finally witness the titular TOEM phenomenon: a spectacle described in the first few minutes with astonishing vagueness. After departing from their laid-back hometown, they visit adorably diverse areas including a dense forest with a hotel in the woods, a seaside town with sunny beaches and a storm-ravaged coastline, a bustling town full of hurried business people, and a peak. snowy mountain, who helps community members with his camera along the way.
The initial functions of the camera are simple: you can zoom in and out, or rotate it to take a selfie. Later, it gets a little deeper when you get a tripod that allows you to set up specific shots, and a horn that you can play to elicit goofy reactions from your subjects. Rain, snow, and mud can splash onto your camera lens, although certain elements or interactions will solve this problem if you don’t like it. Beyond this, don’t expect more elaborate photo editing tools from TOEM, but of course just five minutes is enough to know that fancy camera features are beside the point.
TOEM doesn’t gamify your photography beyond “take a picture of this” to solve a puzzle or move on. There is no photo scoring and no rarity system similar to Pokémon Snap. In a different kind of photo game this simplicity might have been a disappointment, but overall I didn’t miss it in TOEM. The cute and fun settings that TOEM rewarded my curiosity with were almost always satisfying enough without trying to set up a perfect shot, and even without a mission or reward to motivate me, I often found myself framing silly selfies with characters and places that I liked it just because I wanted to.
Good photos tell stories, and good photo shooting games tell a lot of stories; therefore, TOEM is a very good game for taking pictures. Although their bookend areas are short due to the need for storytelling, the rest are densely packed, intricate, and in a diorama-like design, giving the feeling of playing with an extremely well-made set of paper dolls or a 3D comic. Each map is packed with sweet moments with characters like a grumpy newspaper boss who is legitimately proud of his mustache, a balloon family celebrating a birthday, or a moose DJ performing a big set for an audience of glow stick-waving fans. . The hustle and bustle of one or two areas (specifically those with intense weather) began to noticeably cause the game to work on the Switch, but this was limited to those locations and was only a brief little annoyance.
There are also longer stories, like the investigator you meet in each town looking for a shadowy character hiding on stage, or a series of ghosts tired of having to do everything themselves. Most TOEM encounters happily marry the ordinary with myth or the absurd, elevating the moments of everyday life by asking you to look a little closer through the lens of a camera and appreciate the ways an army Ant can be as delicious as a towering snow monster.
Many of these little photographed stories are helpful in moving forward, as community service is rewarded with free bus rides to the next area. You will have to help a handful of people in each area through taking photos, looking for missions or exploring to reach your final goal. For example, you may need to use your zoom lens to identify all the items that are attached to machinery in a power plant to lower a bridge, find a lost dog, or take photographs of the scattered body parts of a toy doll. snow for an annoying snowman builder. . You’re free to take on whatever tasks you want to meet the quota to move on, so if you get stuck on one, it’s pretty simple to shift your focus to something else. But TOEM’s humorous and grounded writing was so enjoyable and its characters so silly and likable that I was itching to try to finish every possible task that was presented to me just to see all that their world had to offer.
And it was easy to go beyond that, as TOEM also comes with a short list of achievements, collectible clothing items, a compendium of creatures that you can fill with photos of cats, dogs, insects, and other animals, and lots of amazing photo interactions. . stumble as you go. You can also collect a number of catchy and relaxing music tracks from songwriters Launchable Socks and Jamal Green, who will come and go as you wander the world and provide musical accompaniment and also critically occasional silence to appreciate TOEM’s excellent sound design. .
In total, I only spent about three hours finishing the TOEM story and an extra hour after that to find every last secret. Happily I could have stayed longer, but TOEM was such an accurate and tightly wrapped little game box that I can’t wait to ask for more. It’s complete in a way that I feel games often struggle to be, like a weird TV show that ends exactly the way the writers intended after just a season or two, or a tasty meal that fills rather than filling. I believe there is something brave and wonderful about wanting to do something that is deliberately small in an industry where padded length and sheer reach and scale are often equated with value to many people. I love walking away from a game feeling this content.