Sometimes the best adventures aren’t just about reaching the end. Often, traveling is more about what happens between point A and point B than your actual destination, as you capture moments in time along the way in photographs to help give that journey more meaning and something to look back on. TOEM by Swedish developers Something We Made puts that idea into a video game format that almost anyone can enjoy.
Starting off in a little countryside house, the main character is gifted an old camera with “Dynamic Zoom” from his grandmother and prepares for his journey to go witness a mysterious event called the Toem. After being taught the basics of camera controls and setting up ideal shots, you’re basically left to your own devices at the bus station and head out into the wide world.
You’re given some basic instructions to earn stamps on your Community Card to be able to ride the bus to the next destination, closer and closer to the Toem, but what you run into can range from a little old lady who used to be a stunt driver to a scientist who studies a meteor hitting the side of a mountain resort. Those spontaneous weird happenings are what gives TOEM its irresistible charm. It may look like a stripped down version of Pokémon Snap from a different perspective, but in reality it’s so much more than that.
Completing quests rewards you with stamps, but they’re widely varied, as you can find someone’s lost dog, help the harbormaster navigate boats out of the harbor, or advertise for a local business by wearing a hat that smells like bean buns. You’re not just taking pictures all the time, as you’re encouraged to capture something on your adventure along with the requisite puzzles requiring you to produce a photo. Thankfully, it’s not boring — even the easier riddles still provide a fun time. By the final two towns, you’re manipulating the orientation of the environment to find the answer or using the POV from your camera to spot objects.
Along with just your camera, you also get some accessories that just make you look cool and provide some necessary puzzle-solving functions. From ghost glasses that let you see friends from the next life to boots that’ll help you climb a mountain, there’s little gadgets that you can pick up along the way that’re both optional and necessary to progress. I found it amusing to keep prancing around town in a space helmet, a scarf, and wooden clogs while nobody paid any mind to the strange outfit.
Where TOEM thrives is in its mood. The relaxed atmosphere and the whimsical tone of the game gives it a fairytale feel, like a life lesson with a fantastical backdrop. The relaxed mood and loose story also gives you the ability to enjoy the spontaneous nature of candid photography, just letting things happen or being able to break out the camera and snap an interesting shot for your collection. Enjoying the sights of the country and cityside lets you bask in spontaneous moments of creating hopeful art, with even a local artist in the big city looking for inspiration from your photography skills.
In fact, TOEM is at its best when it takes cues from candid or street photography. The spontaneity of capturing that magic moment in the middle of the street or maybe catching a kid on a skateboard doing a grind on a railing makes for some rather funny little moments here and there. It’s always the small moments during the journey to the end that give you memories of what you did getting to the destination, not the destination itself, that gives you a sense of accomplishment. Seeing the titular Toem is definitely a feel-good moment, but it’s an introspective time that lets you look back and remember all that you did to get to that point. Reflecting on the journey and what exactly TOEM means to you will vary, but the story emphasizes you don’t have to speed your way there. You can stop to see the sights, do other things, and eventually find your way to the end of your journey.
TOEM is a short, sweet distraction you can easily clear on a weekend as a breath of fresh air from the typical video game these days. The super-relaxed atmosphere lets you take the game at your own pace, there’s very little pressure on puzzle solving, and it’s charming as anything. By the end, TOEM was a gentle tug on the heartstrings that I left with a good feeling. It’s like drinking a good cup of hot chocolate by a fire, or watching a sunset on the beach. A simplistic snippet of time that lets you just relax and take in the experience, rather than an in-your-face intensity that you need to take in short doses.
My only gripes with TOEM were that some puzzles felt a little too obtuse towards the end with only vague hints, especially the Photography Guild’s challenges in each destination. It also felt like I just blazed through some areas in a matter of minutes, earning my requisite number of stamps for the bus almost right away. It took away from the charm of some characters I met, as I was already moving on after just saying hello.
If you’re new to video games or are looking for something different that doesn’t want to get your heart racing, TOEM is definitely for you. Just remember to slow down and see the sights along the way.
A Steam key was provided by PR for the purposes of this review.
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With its entertaining puzzles and wonderful soundtrack, TOEM is a super charming, short game that provides a relaxed yet still impactful experience.
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