A Virus Named Tom
Poor Dr. X. After curing walking with an ingenious moving footpath, he went on to invent the Globotron which would destroy anyone too arrogant to be cured of the terrible affliction that is walking. MegaTech, Dr. X’s erstwhile employers, thought there was little profit in Globotron and immediately sacked the poor guy. At first glance you might think this to be a rational decision; surely few people are still walking, so what is the point in wasting money on building something to destroy the few people that are? The answer is tolls: charge a small, reasonable fee to use the automatic footpaths and destroy anyone who does not pay up; it doubles the consumers’ motivation to pay the toll! Plus, not only will you be cured of your walking, but also your (now fatal) thriftiness. Everybody wins, and MegaTech is just that little bit richer. If only Dr. X had been as ruthless a businessman as he is a scientist. If that were the case then he would have simply suggested this to corporate, and probably got himself a cushy job reading through pie graphs in the process. Unfortunately for MegaTech and Dr. X—a man needs a job, even in the future!—instead of doing what was obvious to anyone with any business sense, he did what any mad scientist would do, and concocted a virus (named Tom) to take down MegaTech’s products one by one.
Technically—in spite of the title—Tom is actually a small, charming robot and not the virus itself. Tom’s job is to make sure that the actual virus infects each circuit completely. This is done through good old fashioned tile flipping and puzzle solving. We’ll get to that in a moment, though; I think you deserve an explanation in regards to the first paragraph. Devoting a rather bloated opening paragraph to the story of a puzzle game? A flipping tile-flipping puzzle game at that! And I did it with good reason too: the story is every bit as charming as Tom himself is, and with a name like that, how could he not be? At the end of each section (each section is composed of ten levels, except for the first, which only contains four) you’ll be rewarded with a brief, animated cutscene that will show you exactly what your handiwork has done, and the ways in which each product fails are always amusing. At the same time you’ll be getting e-mails from MegaTech. At first they don’t take you seriously; they’re mocking Dr. X! But as he successfully takes down more and more of their products they become more and more angry, frantic, and desperate. It’s exactly what the story to a puzzle game of this style and structure should be: immediately engaging, succinct, and completely un-intrusive.
Now let’s get back to the meat of A Virus Named Tom—the puzzles. In order to infect each level you have to complete a circuit so that the virus can flow freely from tile to tile and thus infect them all. It’s simple enough in theory, and for awhile you will simply be connecting chains of tiles through flipping particular tiles so that the circuit is complete; not that this is an easy proposition in and of itself—once things get going the solution to completing a circuit is never obvious.
But as you go on, bit by bit, the game throws in more elements to complicate things: it’s not long before MegaTech is fighting back with robots of their own that you have to avoid; then it turns out that you actually have to get as close to them as possible without hitting them so that you can steal their power which increases your score, and your energy—if either are depleted, then it’s game over.
But that’s not all; Dr. X fights back against the fight back and gives you the power to use glitches: a trap that you can set which stops your enemies in their tracks; of course MegaTech then evolves their strategy further, and suddenly not all of their robots can be stopped by the glitches, and the final piece in the puzzle? Rather naively (I imagine this is the same naivety that led to corporate not coming up with my simple Globotron solution) they send in robots that are the source of the virus which means that when you’ve completed that circuit, you’ve also got to trap one of the power-‘bots and have another robot collide with them; as they blow up, the power-‘bots leak the virus, thus filling the circuit; as long as you’ve planned everything perfectly.
The above is an excellent example of how you’ve always got a new element to play with; something thrown into the mix that helps keep things interesting and exciting. And if it still sounds too simple, then imagine this: a dozen robots zipping quickly around the screen; several separate circuits that you have to figure out how to complete; but wait, there’s more!— And then you have to perfectly time trapping several different power-‘bots; and after that make sure you flip the final tile at just the right moment so that it isn’t infected too early and transfers your beautifully constructed virus into a booby trap that will undo all your (incredibly) hard work. Phew!
One example is more than enough; I won’t go into more detail about the other obstacles you’ll have to face as you don’t want the game completely spoiled for you, do you?
But perhaps you shouldn’t always have something new to play with. The first several sections can feel like tutorial after tutorial as each new concept is introduced, and while they do evolve beyond a tutorial into something more challenging, when you move on to the next new obstacle, the old one is often forgotten about! Then—after one of the tutorial-like levels—without warning you’ll come up against a drastically harder level which only adds to the disjointed learning curve and pacing of the earlier sections.
The good news is that once you get past the first few sections all the elements start to come together nicely, and the difficulty is ramped up another notch, but is far more consistent so that you’re not jumping from easy to hard within the space of two levels.
If you’re playing with a keyboard instead of a controller then proceedings can be frustrating; the opening screen of the game announces: “Keyboard good, controller great”, but good is perhaps a bit of an overstatement. The latter levels (especially if you want to get a good score) require fast, precise movement which just doesn’t work with a keyboard. You’ve got to be zipping in and out of robots, latching on to tiles and flipping them, all against the metaphorical clock, and using a keyboard only leads to frustration.
However with a controller, the free flowing speed of movement is one of the most engaging parts of the game. There is nothing more satisfying than stealing the energy from several insanely quick robots in a row (a great way to boost your score, as well as give you more time to solve the puzzle) while flipping tiles right under their noses, and it works effortlessly, so long as you’re using a controller.
You’d normally find an in-depth explanation about how the scoring works at the start of a review, but no self-respecting review of a puzzle game would have opened with a long paragraph about the story, so you should already have come to the realisation that I’ve flipped things around to complete the circuit.
The scoring could not be simpler; as soon as the level begins your score starts to trickle away, so the quicker you complete the circuit, the higher your score. As previously mentioned the score can be boosted by collecting energy from the enemy robots. There are gold, silver, and bronze medals to be won on each level, and trying to beat your score and get gold on each level is actually a very satisfying experience. There are often tricks on how to complete a circle infinitely faster than when you were just trying to figure out how to do in any way possible, and it’s the very acquisition of score-raising energy stealing from the enemy robots that further helps to makes high score whoring just as satisfying as completing a tough circuit for the first time due to the effortless, and engaging movement that you don’t always have to put to use in every level just to complete it, but you do if you want to get a great score in the process.
There are over fifty single player levels, and while you’ll breeze through a good amount of those early on, once you get up to the hard ones things will slow down and suddenly fifty levels seems like an impressive (and terrifying) number. Plus there are the co-op and battle modes. Currently both are local only, but there are plans to take them online—that’s up to you, dear reader. These things cost money! Of course I am more than happy to offer Misfits Attic financial advice; I am sure my Globotron money making scheme is evidence enough of my fiscal prowess. It’s on the house.
Unfortunately my good friends Bunce and Septimus Harding are the only gamers I know in person, and far be it from me to lower myself to interacting with such greedy layabouts! As such all I can say is that both co-op and battle mode look like a great deal of fun—go take a look at YouTube; there are people out there with a lower moral fibre than Tom Towers who will be more than happy to play with just anyone they come across. I saw one of them even playing with their wife! And not even in Wife Mode! What is the world coming to? However, I did give both a try by myself, and managed to discover that co-op gives you a whole set of fifty four new, unique levels. Hell, I was enjoying playing through them by myself! Battle mode is a case of taking over as much territory as possible, while employing the use of exploding glitches; this was not quite so fun by myself as I could simply trace my way around the whole map unhindered, and Tom Towers does not rejoice in easy victories.
At first I was worried that perhaps A Virus Named Tom might be doing a disservice to my name, but as it turns out, I am in fact proud to share my name with such a charming and challenging robot. Here’s to A Virus Named Tom, and all the other Toms the world over that are doing the name proud!