A Virus Named Tom is perhaps the most rage inducing and agonisingly frustrating I’ve played since Super Meat Boy. To continuously fall short on that one damned stage time and time again feels more like a punishment than an enjoyable gaming experience. From the first minute I start the game up, I look forward to the point that my rage escalates to such a height that I can finally summon up the willpower to close that goddamned game. Yet here I am, eagerly looking forward to getting back to the same accursed stage that I’ve been stuck on for what must have been nearly an hour now.
The gameplay throughout A Virus Named Tom is fairly typical of most indie puzzle games and despite it’s necessary quirks to set it apart, it still comes out feeling distinctly generic. With no particular gimmick and no real expansion on an already saturated genre, the title doesn’t do much in terms of pioneering and it fails to establish any real individuality amongst its peers. Although the titles lack of wanderlust might come across as a negative point, I see it more as a double edged sword. With no fundamental aspect or mechanic setting it apart, A Virus Named TOM instead focuses on delivering a particularly enjoyable title relying on nothing more than great gameplay as a selling point, which I feel it does with great success.
One of my personal favourite aspects of A Virus Named TOM is something we’ve already seen in countless other titles of the same genre. As the game progresses through the stages, more and more features and upgrades become available to both yourself and the enemies, as well as to the puzzles themselves and every time one of these new aspects presents themselves to you, you’re forced to divide your attention and focus and eventually conscripting every cell in your brain to think individually in order to reach the goal. Being notoriously bad at multitasking, this aspect was something I found particularly difficult at first and took some real getting used to. Towards the end of the game, I felt as though my mind had transcended to a new level of omnipotence as I successfully managed to dodge between a selection of enemies whilst utilizing every inch of my brain on what must have been the most frustrating puzzle in my life. At this point, I took a second to think and actually found myself musing over what I had just managed to accomplish. I was genuinely impressed by my own ability to multi-task and utilize my brain in such way that I couldn’t help but feel that the development team could perhaps give a few pointers to Dr Kawashima in regards to his brain training program.
A Virus Named TOM presents two styles of multiplayer, co-operative and versus, but rather unusually it only supports local play, allowing friends to join your game with USB controllers and additional keyboards. This obviously has its issues regarding the fact that not everyone will have a couple of keyboards or USB controllers lying around but at the same time, it comes with its benefits. Having moved away from a lot of console titles and focusing more on PC games, local multiplayer is something that I had waved good bye to some time ago. Although a few games have always offered local multiplayer I never felt any were actually worth sitting down and playing with your friends, with perhaps an exception for Trine 2. A Virus Named Tom is a Title I can very much imagine being added to that list and I do actually feel that the experience would be much less enjoyable should it be online, but I don’t think that alone justifies the games lack of multiplayer online and is the only fundamental that I think the title really missed out on.
Moving on to the actual multiplayer modes themselves, I’ve discovered that the single player is actually more of a forced necessary and it’s actually the multiplayer modes that will really frame how enjoyable the game can be. Looking back over my co-operative experience, I’m surprised none of us stormed out of the room in frustration. Just like the single player mode, the multiplayer really does get right to the business of grinding a few gears but it goes about it slightly differently than the single player. With four people eagerly working together towards the same goal, one would expect the puzzles to become a fair bit easier, and whether or not it’s my choice of friends, or it’s just how the game rolls, I actually found the co-op a little more difficult, or at least a lot more frustrating.
After a while, cooperative mode starts to feel more like an alternative versus mode, as players try to force their own solutions onto the ambiguous puzzles, insisting that it’s better than the other methods. Solving the puzzles isn’t the only part that’s made a lot more frustrating with the addition of a bad choice of friends, though. With a lot of the stages being a little over crowded with enemies, maneuvering around them just becomes harder as your ‘friends’ get in your way (purposely or otherwise) and block your only escape. Regardless of any bitter feelings and pent up hatred we developed for each other, I look back on the whole experience I believe that it offered me more enjoyment than most games have succeeded in doing of late, and actually being able to see my friends faces crumple in frustration was an experience I can only thank Misfits Attic for.
The versus mode was a little different from what I originally expected and instead of any of the usual puzzles I’d already seen it took the form of what I can only describe as a virus land grab. The rules are simple enough, pitting four players against each other in a competition to see who can enclose the most area inside a drawn closed shape and link it back to their respective pads. With an exception to the addition of bombs and the possibility of stealing, the versus mode offered in A Virus Named Tom is more or less a pimped up version of the school yard ‘line game’ and really doesn’t feel like a genuine addition to the title but rather a little bit on the side.
To conclude, A Virus Named Tom could easily be considered one of those games that are notoriously hated by everyone at some level, but globally adored for the exact same reason. Like an angry housewife in bed, the title is as painful to endure as it is to stop and once you start, you can look to keep going all night until either you give up, bitter and frustrated, or finished, basking in euphoria and self-satisfaction. With an enjoyable storyline injected with genuine humour, the single player is enjoyable enough in itself to justify the purchase but the co-operative multiplayer is what really makes this game worth buying.
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