Toem takes the region-trotting exploration of the mainline Pokémon titles and combines it with the two-time photography spin-off Pokémon Snap to give us something that, in the same way, Bugsnax did, feels familiar and warm like a safety blanket.
All of the opening beats scream Pokémon as you break free from a quaint, provincial home-life to chase a singular goal. Of course, this time it isn’t to catch ‘em all, it’s to photograph Toem — a natural phenomenon that the nameless hero’s grandmother had been witness to in her younger years. With an elusive goal and a world of people and cute, adorable critters to immortalise on Polaroid, it’s hard to argue that Toem isn’t formulaic despite its clear style.
Homelanda, the place of origin for our hero’s spark of adventure, and the final mountainous summit of Toem aside, the game features four dense regions. The goal is to complete enough menial tasks around town to receive stamps in your logbook which in turn grant you passage to the subsequent region. In my experience, a couple of the bite-sized quests did turn out to be headscratchers, although it didn’t impede my progress as the condition for passage is set low enough to not gatekeep anybody.
The regions themselves, which range from a storied fishing village to a lively metropolis, are decently sized and, as mentioned previously, populated with all kinds of critters to log and magical people to meet, including an adorable family of balloons who doesn’t fare well against a brisk mountainous breeze. Getting around is pretty intuitive as large arrows at the edge of areas dictate the ins and outs, while you simply hop on the bus to transit between regions.
A lot of the remarkable sights you’ll see in Toem will be through the lens of the hero’s modest camera. It’s point-and-click in a non-traditional sense, and though the game gives you specific things to snap, it’s also nice just to wander, take in the sights and fill your album up. Though it makes sense in-lore to limit the hero’s album, being able to only snap just over one hundred photos in a world where Instagram exists feels like a bizarre choice. Though derivative, I loved how Toem leaned heavily into the fetch nature of Pokémon by giving us a log of animals to snap and, in a roundabout way, collect within the world, it encourages exploration of a world that welcomes exactly that.
Though your camera is your primary armament, it itself is equipped with a pretty useful zoom as well as a horn that can be honked with increasing hilarity to startle townsfolk into compromising situations. It adds a bit of fun and variety to what is by now, with New Pokémon Snap and Bugsnax, a fairly worn concept.
As a shutterbug, our hero can also don several garments to help him stand out and, in some cases, be granted access to places he might be bounced from otherwise. A reporter’s hat gets him backstage at a fashion show while a cool set of sunglasses, which also aid in communing with the spiritual plane, see him waved through at a woodland rave. They all tie in to the game’s problem solving and, like the horn, add a deeper layer to the experience.
Toem’s black and white, hand-drawn aesthetic is certainly pretty. It’s understated and simplistic in the same way Scribblenauts used to be, while managing to be distinct all at once. The Scandinavian-inspired landscapes all but force the player to stop and smell the roses. But as unique, quaint, and cute as the hand-drawn approach is, the monochrome take is somewhat forgettable in the end. In an attempt to honour classic adventure games, it falls short of having a personality that you’ll recall days removed. That said, there’s a moment late-game where colour is injected into the frame and it’s a surprisingly touching and affecting moment that feels earned by the end of the game’s some eight hours.
There’s a very chill mixtape backdrop scribed in large part by Launchable Socks and Jamal Green. It’s a calming and tranquil soundtrack that feels like a reassuring arm across the shoulder as our little guy finds his way through the world at large.
On all levels, Toem feels like an homage of sorts to the early days of Nintendo. Through the game itself, it pays respects to Pokémon, while every facet of the presentation feels like a classic touchstone, from the hand-drawn aesthetic to the inaudible warble of the world’s creatures. It’s familiar, accessible and it sets a fun, quirky tone that’ll please anyone who gives it the time.
Toem combines elements of both Pokémon Snap and its mainline series, letting players loose into a darling world full of weird and wonderful characters, animals, and sights to behold. Armed with nothing but a camera and a pair of itchy feet, Toem is further evidence that ‘taking aim’ in video games can stem from a creative and peaceful place.
That fun, familiar feeling
Pretty accessible for all ages
Adds deeper layers to the now well worn camera mechanic