Developer: Something We Made
Shout-out to Humble Bundle - bundles are usually a pretty good deal, although it just adds a lot to my backlog. I picked up a bundle recently that included TOEM as well as a couple other indies I've been wanting to check out. It's likely I wouldn't have grabbed TOEM otherwise, so I'm glad I came upon the deal and was able to play it perfectly on my Steam Deck. TOEM is a photo adventure game where you help others along the way as you journey on to see "TOEM", a magical and mysterious phenomenon. TOEM is an incredibly charming, adorable, and silly adventure with characters that warm your heart and a world that you'll want to photograph fully.
TOEM starts out much like a Pokemon game.You start in your home, where your mom wishes you well and says goodbye to you as you start your adventure. With only a camera, you leave your small town and set out into the world. You learn that in order to get bus rides to the next locations, you'll need to collect community stamps from helping people. You only need a certain amount to get your bus ride, but there's many more to collect if you so choose. Sometimes people will ask you to find certain items for them, but most often you'll need to take a photo to complete quests. You continue on your journey going through many different environments - beach, city, mountains. You'll also take pictures of creatures along the way and collect them in your album, which motivates you to try to capture every one of them. In the end, you'll travel to the see the mystical phenomenon called "TOEM".
TOEM's fully black and white world intimidated me a little bit at first. I didn't know if I could get into a game that had no color at all. Yet, somehow, I found that the world still feels so welcoming, alive, and adorable. The hand-drawn style gives a lot of personality to the environments and the characters, and works well to hide things for quests as well. The game allows you to zoom in and out at anytime, letting you see details but also take in the full 360-view of an area. I really warmed up the art style and it made me enjoy taking pictures just for fun. The soundtrack is excellent as well, and the game actually has an in-game "Hikelady" (it took me a while to get this little joke) that lets you listen to tapes from any area you've already been to. The music is somehow very comforting and cozy while also still being bouncy and memorable, not just sort of a "boring" relaxing. I especially like the Fisherman's Tune from the 3rd area you travel to.
When I first heard about TOEM, I didn't think it would be a good fit for me. I've recently seen "camera" games in the footsteps of Pokemon Snap pop up within in the indie space. I'm not a huge fan of Pokemon Snap (I know, I'm sorry) and the few photo-based games I've played weren't super interesting to me, so I figured it just wasn't my thing. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that TOEM has much more to it than just taking photos. It actually reminds me of Chicory: A Colorful Tale in the way that you meet really great characters and help their lives in small but significant ways. It is a game where sidequests are essentially the main story - but I actually really liked that. You explore, find secrets, solve puzzles, and fetch items. That being said, taking pictures is really fun too. There's filters and frames you might use once or twice and then forget about, but there's also a selfie mode that I really enjoyed using. Also, there's certain characters who respond in special ways to being photographed or lead to a special photo if you do take a picture of them. The camera also works as a way to "zoom in" and find hidden objects in the game and your camera can even get an attachment that honks at anyone in your frame. I didn't get tired of collecting photos of animals because there wasn't an overwhelming amount to find, and one photo would satisfy each one.
The world of TOEM is full of fun characters, many of them animals, many of them humans, and some just strange monsters or creatures. You get fun outfits and items along the way as rewards as well. There's not much of a "main story", because your main quest is to just take pictures, help people, and continue traveling on. For this reason, the ending really took me by surprise with how well it wrapped up the game. It made the journey worthwhile and made for a heartwarming post-credits scene. Conversations with characters are worthwhile and funny, which makes you really care about helping them. I was actually motivated to find everything in the game and complete every single quest. I'm not usually one to hunt achievements, but having gotten most of them organically through my playthrough, I decided to keep playing and get every single one.
It sounds a little strange to say, but TOEM is a game that feels like it just... soothed my heart. I've been playing a lot of games lately that have been just alright, and this one felt like it was exactly what I needed right now. TOEM is one of the only games I actually completed 100%, including all steam achievements. This was likely because the game itself is not too big and each of the quests felt satisfying and worthwhile to complete. I highly recommend this game if you like wholesome adventure games, photo games, and completing a game to the fullest. I won't ruin the ending, but it's beautiful and really worth taking your time on.
TOEM is available on PC, Switch, and PS5
Played on: PC (Steam Deck)
Playtime: 6 hrs