I’m a sucker for Steam, I really am. I’d read about A Virus Named TOM (capitalization non-optional) from Misfits Attic quite some time ago, if the time it’s languished in my Maybe I Should Play This Sometime list is any indication. I finally got around to playing it this week… not because I remembered the game and looked it up, but because it got released on Steam. In my defense, though, it seems to have just been released (taking into account the Regular Indie Wonderland Delay), so it’s still completely topical to talk about.
(Spoiler levels: Narrative, low. Mechanical, medium.)
What wonderful adventures will await me in the land of Wherever It Is That Computer Viruses Get Fully Capitalized Names? Well, the first thing I notice on the right side of the menu screen — the left side hosts a fairly standard menu — is a small, lovely-looking robot fellow, who quickly fades to reveal the World’s Most Intense-Looking Man.
Intense Looking Man himself fades out as well, and a sequence plays that I assume is an intro of sorts. It’s a little hard to make out what’s going on, what with the lack of spoken dialogue and text, but I try my best. Crazy man, robot dog, giant black robot head with red eyes. Exasperated man. Corporate suits, graph indicating a financial loss. No, I guess I have no idea what’s going on, here.
The menu itself is nothing to write home about. There’s single player and multiplayer of both the cooperative and competitive kind, but when have I ever included multiplayer in this column? The options are quite basic, too. The Controls options screen causes me to start singing the Lazy XBox Port Song, which involves me saying “This is starting to look like a lazy XBox port” and isn’t actually a song at all.
On a New Game, the actual intro movie plays. Mister Intense from before is revealed to be a brilliant scientist, who single-handedly invented the future! Robot dogs, that never poop! Automatic sidewalks, that make sure nobody has to walk ever again! And Globotron, who vaporizes anyone caught walking!
Then… Mega-Tech. Using ‘declining profits’ as an obvious excuse, they sacked the visionary future-builder! But this won’t stand, oh no, it won’t stand at all. Now, he will unleash his latest, greatest invention. A computer virus that will infect and corrupt all his previous inventions! A virus… named TOM!
The game proper starts at a billboard, advertising the robot dog from earlier. I can use the arrow keys to cycle through other, greyed-out billboards showing the other products shown (if not mentioned) in the intro. Given that dr. X’ (as that’s the man’s name) stated intentions are to infect his own inventions, I assume the different technologies represent level themes or somesuch. I can only select the Pet Of The Future right now, though, so let’s get to that.
Selecting Iron Dog zooms me in on a more schematic overview of the same dog. The Dog Of Steel is made up of four parts, which I’ll assume represent individual levels. I assume this because only the dog’s head is unlocked and selectable at the moment. And also, because it has a leaderboard.
A schematic movie brings me up to speed. As expected, I control the virus TOM. It’s its goal, that is to say my goal, to fully infect every level. And how do you suppose I’ll accomplish that?
Infecting is actually a fairly simple notion. The infection starts not from me, but from a certain infection point Dr. X has activated, and it spreads along circuitry lines. The circuitry is jammed, however… wait, how does that work? If the robot dog has jammed circuitry by default, how is it operational? Or was it intentionally designed this badly?
Sorry, Fridge Logic moment there. As I was saying, the circuitry is jammed, and the infection can only spread across connected lines. Luckily, TOM/me can move across the grid and turn pieces of circuitry in 90-degree angles.
Of course, what you’re seeing up there is a schematic tutorial movie. The actual game looks rather more like this:
Those tube bars up top represent my energy, which slowly drains over time. The bars coloured gold and silver are unclear at first, until I complete the first level well before the gold bar is reached and find myself rewarded with a shiny gold medal.
So yeah, A Virus Called TOM is a timed puzzle game involving medals and leaderboards. That might be all you need to know, if you have strong positive or negative feelings towards this class of games. I do, but I’m also purportedly a professional, so let’s continue on.
Of course, A Virus Called TOM doesn’t remain this simple for long. The second level introduces twisty turns, a larger field and a stricter time limit…
…and the third level introduces crawly spider drones that drain my energy on hit.
I win, of course: I always win. I’m treated to an amusing cutscene of an exploding robot dog for my troubles, and then we move on to the second billboard, advertising a Teleporter.
It is at this point Mega-Tech takes note of my actions and sends me an ominous email, explaining I might as well just quit now: their ‘new encryption’ is fully, totally unbeatable, so better pack it in, sucka. Pshh, I’m the world’s most advanced computer virus. Named TOM. What can encryption possible do to halt me?
Be back after I solve the mystery of the Variously Rotated Question Marks!
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