Toem is a game built around its photo mode
Many big budget video games these days come with a dedicated photo mode, a tool specifically designed to capture a game in a single frame. There’s no real standard for photo modes: most feature zoom and camera movement, but neither are the same, allowing gamers to catch their breath to capture something in one. click. In Toem, the game from developer Something We Made is built around the idea of a photography mode. That’s the whole game.
This is one of a growing number of photography games that use the act of capturing photos – and noticing the environments around the player – as the primary function of the game. Toem, Generation Umurangi used photography to tell the story of a decaying world; Alba: a wildlife adventure has used the practice in its wellness story on safeguarding and appreciating natural environments; and, of course, there is New Pokémon Snap, a game using photographs to test your perfect timing. Toem is the next iteration of the photography game. It makes perfect use of the snap of a camera shutter to evoke a comfortable, lived-in world.
When Toem begins, you are given a camera with a few basic functions, allowing you to zoom in and take selfies, and you go on a trip to the top of a mountain to photograph something called the toem. The camera is essential not only for capturing this trip, but also for traveling through the different towns and villages. Bus trips to each of the ToemThe locations require a bunch of stamps on the bus pass, each of which can be earned by helping the locals. Most of the time, helping means taking pictures, but sometimes that means some fancy and silly tasks, like picking up a ghost on a date. The simple mechanics of stopping to take a photo – sometimes with light puzzles that include a tripod or a horn to surprise the subjects – works so perfectly with the wacky charm of Toem‘s cities. The game itself is small, just over three hours to complete, but manages to pack so many sweet moments into its concise world.
It’s the kind of game I want more of, but I’m grateful the developers stopped when they did: every new discovery and every new world is fresh and fulfilling, and not a single moment has been overworked. There is just enough in Toem that I want (and can) discover all the secrets. It looks that way to that of Adam Robinson-Yu A short hike, the independent escape of 2019, although the two games are not mechanically or visually alike. As in A short hike, reach the top of Toem’s mountain as fast as possible is not the point, for the sheer joy of these worlds is made to be savored.
Toem released on September 17th for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 5, and Windows PC via Steam.