While I am not much of a photographer, my father is and has always tried to capture magical or intriguing moments on our trips. This is something I used to take for granted, as I just enjoyed the sceneries on our travels, but never thought about how nice it could be to keep holding onto special events until I got much older. Even with a modern phone, it can never live up to the strength of an actual camera. Toem wishes to take you on a journey where you simply help people by taking pictures and exploring the places you visit, which sounded appealing to me. After taking on this adventure through my neighbouring country, I can definitely say it was well worth my time.
As the little avatar, your goal is to take a picture of “Toem”, a spectacular view that is beyond words. Despite that this is your destination, this title clearly shows that the journey is just as important. In each area you visit, you will be tasked to fill up a quote of stamps in order to take the bus for free and move forward to the next place, ending in where you will find Toem. You get these marks through doing different tasks for the inhabitants, all revolving around exploration and/or photographing.
While the locations are unlocked linearly, how you decide to do so is all up to you. Each place has plenty of creatures that need your support, with their quests ranging in creativity, challenge, and length. You might help a ghost figure out who they were in their living life, advertise for a food stand by using a specific hat or play hide and seek with someone who is just bored. Many tasks also use wordplay or require you to tinker with the environment in order to find what you are looking for, which are clever ways to add to the exploration.
Speaking of, despite that some places can be sizable, I never needed a map due to each area’s clear structure, making navigation a breeze. There are also only five locations to visit, with two of them being quite small. This makes Toem into a short adventure, but since there is a lot to see and discover, it never felt like the playthrough ended too soon. It is just a shame that not every quest is imaginative though, as some might be straightforward with their objectives or are too similar to a previous one you accomplished. Even if this game still keeps up the engaging exploration and no task is below average, this makes the activities you do uneven in quality.
This limitation might honestly come from your own lack of diverse capabilities. You will be playing from an overhead view with the ability to zoom in and out, and can at any moment pull out the camera for taking pictures. Here, you are able to look around and zoom in and out as well, with one horn and a tripod being acquired soon after the first stage. Sadly, this is it to your moveset, and you are not even able to walk around while looking through the camera, which is a bizarre design.
The same problem of restrictions can be seen with your attires. Despite that there are plenty of options for visual customization, some are also used for getting to new areas or to cause an event to occur. Be it a diving helmet for letting you explore underwater or shoes to climb up the mountains with, they have interesting uses but feel more like context-sensitive moments due to their specific purposes. You still have to find these tools, but I believe more could have been done to give these items varied functionalities.
What helps Toem become a good time, is really that it focuses on being an experience with nice forms of interactivity. There are subtle visual highlights to indicate where you might want to explore, most quests are imaginative, and the core design is always at the forefront. It does feel like this title has potentials for more, as it is too limited to make itself more than just an intriguing walking simulator, but by also lasting for only two to three hours, this playthrough does end before it becomes unengaging. A cosy stroll that I simply wished had more in its tracks.
Gameplay Score: 7/10
There is no surprise that a game all about travelling around and taking pictures would have lovely visuals, but Toem knows that creativity and unique sceneries are what will hold this aspect up for generations. I adore its black and white aesthetics, as it gives much more focus to the shapes and forms of the inhabitants and places you will visit. You will journey through a huge forest that includes scouts, an old house haunted by ghosts, and even a rave featuring a moose DJ. This is only one location containing such variety, with a busy city filled with workers rushing to their jobs, street arts tagged everywhere, and a fashion show that you can partake in, being just as diverse.
Every area is fascinating with plenty of set pieces to witness that are subtle, with the anthropomorphic creatures being just as imaginative. You will come across different animals, a person made out of socks, and even mythical creations. There are also traditional humans with different designs to meet, but each place has them clearly connected to the cultural aspects of each location, making every single environment memorable. I especially love how far this goes, to the point that I can accept that a balloon family has a birthday party on a cold mountain.
All of the inhabitants have a Scandinavian tone to them through their traditional clothing and simple art style. There are even some assets that are just there as neat visual elements, like a snail racing to the finish line and your own footprints, which are commendable details. The idea of going with a look where most characters are in 2D papers, with the environments being 3D cardboard boxes, was also a clever concept that makes the two styles work beautifully together. The only real issue I have is whenever I am looking through the lens. While it is immersive to see raindrops or snowflakes falling onto it, the people around become blurry when peeking through the camera. There is no option to change the focus either, which is surreal to me.
As for the audio, it is a wonderful mix of atmospheric effects. People are talking in gibberish with different tones and voices, and the areas are filled with ambient sounds, such as seagulls screaming by the harbour or the wind blowing harshly in the mountains. Everything is easy on the ears and inviting, but the best part is the cassettes you can find on your trip. While each has a tone fitting to where you discovered them, you can put on any song at any time and listen to them through your cassette player! Every melody is soothing and diverse, be they echoed with long notes to give a mysterious vibe, containing light guitars with comforting rhythms or neat pops. The entire soundtrack is outstanding, and I hope that Launchable Socks and Jamal Green get more recognition!
Presentation Score: 9/10
Get your cam ready!
There are plenty of tasks to take on, with some even requiring you to visit multiple areas and backtrack to a previous one. Since each place is so small and you have a huge amount of films to use, this was never an issue and instead became a nice way to test your exploration skills. This also goes for the encyclopedia to fill up by taking photos of different species, making it fulfilling to complete your collections.
Outside of this, you are able to find equipment for making yourself look as fancy or silly as possible, with some attires coming with extra functions. Clogs making you walk a bit awkwardly and a scarf to make you resist the cold are decent additions, though most like the foam fingers are there for the amusement alone. Despite that there is not too much to do afterwards and the quests vary in quality, it is easy to find yourself doing everything thanks to the atmosphere alone.
Extra Score: 8/10
As a photographic adventure game, Toem provides a sweet trip through different locations that contain tons of reasons to take pictures in. The magnificent visuals combined with a gorgeous soundtrack makes it easy to want to explore every nook and cranny while filling up your album. The limited amount of abilities makes the interactivity lacking and the tasks are uneven in creativity, but this is a comfortable experience that uses its media wonderfully to create a fascinating and photogenic journey.
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