A Virus Named TOM is easy to recommend to anyone who’s looking for an infectious puzzle game.
What does a computer virus look like? What happens inside a computer when this is hacked? How long does it take for a virus to infect modern pieces of machinery? While most people don’t know the answers to these questions, A Virus Named TOM is an inventive puzzle game that provides some insight into it.
The game’s plot is quite simple. Doctor X was once a young scientist full of promise, after all, he is responsible for creating some of the most innovative inventions of the City of Tomorrow. The existence of mechanical dogs and personal teleporters may sound too farfetched for us, but for the inhabitants of the City of Tomorrow, these objects are part of their everyday lives. But one day, Doctor X decided that he wanted to use all these modern devices for evil and as a consequence, he was fired from his position at Mega Tech. As a way of getting back at them, he created TOM, an adorable little virus that infects modern inventions, rendering them useless.
While this description may give the impression that this is a story-driven game, in A Virus Named TOM, mechanics are much more important. The actual game takes place in a board that is composed of very basic circuitry. The main goal is to reconfigure its layout by rotating tiles and connecting all the circuits to the main source of power which causes the virus to propagate. The way in which this system works will be quite familiar to those players who are old enough to remember the game Pipe Dream (which at the same time was a port of Pipe Mania.)
The different inventions are broken down into multiple parts and each one of these tiny sections represents a level in itself. Once a given invention has been infected in its entirety, the player can move on to a different one to repeat the whole process. As you make progress, not only do the levels become harder, but they also feature some compelling new mechanics.
While the initial levels let you familiarize with the basic rotation mechanics, later levels introduce additional obstacles. Soon enough, anti-virus drones (a bunch of spider-looking creatures that drain your energy if you touch them) make an appearance. Some of these drones move in very predictable patterns, while others follow TOM wherever he goes.
There are other ways of getting energy though. Some of the anti-virus creatures carry it, but in order to grab the energy, TOM needs to get dangerously close to them. Overall, this risk/reward system is really well done. If TOM comes in contact with one of the spiders though, not only does he lose energy, but he’s also sent to the closest corner of the screen, forcing the player to make extra moves which drains even more of TOM’s energy. Another mechanic is encryption, in which tiles are covered by a question mark and the only way to see its content is by connecting them to a source of energy.
Additionally, TOM gets multiple upgrades, such as the possibility of leaving glitches on the board. When an enemy touches one of these glitches, the drone is trapped for a few seconds. On the other hand, if an enemy collapses against a trapped drone, they both explode, giving you plenty of time to move freely across the board before the drones reappear. The presence of these upgrades adds more strategy to the basic gameplay and in general, they work quite well. Finally, it’s worth mentioning there’s another source of energy (red energy,) and if a green beam of energy touches it, it’s instant game over.
Once a level is completed, the player’s performance is graded and a medal (bronze, silver and gold) is given. In addition, if certain requirements are met, you get skip tokens which, as their name indicate, allow you to skip levels. These items come in pretty handy by the end of the game, where most levels become much more difficult.
As in most titles, A Virus Named TOM is really entertaining to play with others. Unfortunately, the multiplayer modes are local-only. This is a shame because getting together with a friend (or couple of friends, since the game supports up to four players) may be hard for most people. There are two multiplayer modes: competitive and cooperative.
Sadly, the former isn’t very good, because it looks and feels quite uninspired. In the competitive mode, each player selects a portion of the territory by drawing a line and enclosing it. Your opponent can steal part of your territory or vice versa, so the game has both players constantly enclosing portions of the board and laying glitch bombs to hinder the opponent’s progress. When time runs out, the player with the most territory wins. The reason why this mode is so obtuse is because there are no rotation mechanics involved, so players claim parts of the board and that’s it.
The cooperative mode, on the other hand, it’s much more gripping. The co-op campaign is quite similar to the single-player one, but to successfully beat a level, you need to coordinate moves with a friend. Getting angry at a friend because he doesn’t see the solution as clearly as you is always fun and allows for some really entertaining moments.
In conclusion, A Virus Named TOM is a solid puzzle game. Undoubtedly, those players who have friends to play with will get much more out of the experience than those who don’t. But even when A Virus Named TOM is much more entertaining with friends, this is a title that’s easy to recommend to almost everybody who’s looking for an infectious puzzle game.