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“There are some flowers you only see when you take detours.”

This favorite quote of mine isn’t from some profound novel or a renown figure, but from an anime about volleyball. Yet, it fits perfectly for what Toem‘s overall message is. A black-and-white photo adventure inspired by the landscapes of Scandinavia, you play as a small figure equipped with nothing but their camera and a music player. 

In general, more and more games are trying to implement a picture mode, but the advent of New Pokémon Snap has brought about a trend of photography based games. While most of them are about taking pictures of creatures or animals and adding them to your compendium, Toem brings so much more to the table.

It sure is!

Say Cheese, Please!

You start out in your cozy bedroom in the befittingly named town of Homelanda. The day’s finally come where you’re setting off on your coming-of-age journey to experience the phenomenon known as ‘Toem.’ We’re teased about what exactly Toem is when our Nana shows us a picture from our album, but it’s cheekily hidden from the player’s eyes due to the camera angle.

With our trusty camera and Hikelady (a chuckleworthy play on the Sony Walkman) in hand, we set off on the bus to the next town of Oaklaville. Travelling between towns in Toem requires a certain number of stamps to be collected on your community card. These stamps can be earned through completing quests that NPCs hand out to you. Quests can range from gathering photos of particular flora or fauna to getting a picture of a suspicious figure for the underground military secret service. Just your average everyday photography.

Once you gather enough stamps, you get a free ride to the next town and start your hunt for stamps again. It’s a neat way of limiting progression in the game, but there’s a number of places to explore in all the towns. As you fulfill more quests, you’ll get all sorts of new gear that you can wear and even use for your camera. My favourite in particular was the horn attachment for the camera. It’s main purpose was to open up new paths to explore by honking at birds or breaking up glaciers. On one particular instance however, I ended up honking at someone a little too close to the bridge and they ended up floating downstream in the water (hey, at least they said they had fun).

I especially enjoyed these tiny details that the game awards you with if you slow down. The laptop that opens up to a Windows XP once you blare your horn at it, the snowflakes forming on the lens of the camera in the chilly region of Kiiruberg, the little cat hanging around on a power line. It’s evident that the game was made with a lot of care and love in these little tidbits that you find.

Gotta collect em’ all

That care and love is particularly seen in the hand drawn artstyle that Toem sports. All the characters and critters are simple 2D drawings. You’d think they might look a little odd in the 3D environments of the game, especially when we’re allowed to rotate the camera around, but it works incredibly well, and is a tastefully implemented design choice. 

The music composed for the game consists mostly of soothing tracks with a few wacky pieces thrown in there, very apt for the game. The Hikelady works just like your everyday music player, and allows you to switch between tracks as you obtain them across your journey. You can even put tracks on repeat or shuffle. Alternatively, you can even choose to not play anything and just take in the ambient noises of your surroundings. 

Toem may be a game in a black and white, but there’s really never a dull moment in the game. There’s a restaurant that’s run by squirrels, a family of talking balloons, and a ghost looking to go on a date (who I accidentally ended up taking on a date near the dumps. I’m sorry little ghost you deserved better). Its dialogue accompanied by gibberish speech à la Animal Crossing is equally cute and quirky. 

Me, trying not to bore you, the reader of this

Any gripes I have with the game are minor and can largely be overlooked. I would have liked a run button, or at least a pair of shoes that would help me run faster as the shoes you obtained were only cosmetic for the most part. The camera detection for certain objects when taking pictures isn’t always accurate, so sometimes if my picture had the required object, maybe it was too far away or there were other elements obstructing it from being the focal point. It also would have been nice if the devs implemented motion control support when using the camera somehow on the Nintendo Switch. Again, these really don’t take away much from the gameplay.

Final Thoughts

I ended up ignoring all the little reminders the game gave me to take a break and played most of it in one sitting, likely against the will of the devs, but I was obsessed with getting those stamps on the page. Toem kept me thrilled for what was ahead and what I could find hidden in all the nooks and crannies. In the 5 or so hours that I had with the game, I enjoyed every single second and found myself wanting more when it was all over. Experiencing the Toem phenomenon was truly magical as the game described it. I’m not going to spoil what it is, and instead would implore you to go and play the game for yourself. Toem is now out on PC, Nintendo Switch, and PlayStation 5!

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