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  • Writer's pictureNate Hermanson

E3 2021 Mini-Preview: TOEM is TOtally EMazing

Updated: Jun 20, 2021

As part of our E3 coverage, we'll be providing a few mini-previews for games that we were compelled to check out further after they caught our attention at one of the events. Many of these games have free demos, so check them out yourselves and let us know what you think!

E3 Day 3 was a bit of a dud. So much so that the internet spent most of the day talking about Batman's bedroom habits rather than taking in the "showcase events" of companies like Razer, Capcom, and... Verizon?

I decided to block out all that noise and spend my day checking out one of the most exciting games showcased during this year's E3, TOEM: A Photo Adventure. VGG was lucky enough to get early access to the demo and we just loved our time with this photography-based adventure game.

Don't forget to give the hour-long demo a try during the Steam Next Fest from June 16 to 22!

The title screen from Toem: A Photo Adventure. The greyscale game shows cute and stylized characters, mostly non-human, standing in a forest with a large tree-shaped tower in the background.

TOEM, developed and self-published by Something We Made, is a photography adventure game where the player sets out to experience the beautiful natural phenomenon known as TOEM in the mountains. After learning how to operate your camera, you'll use it to help out nearby community members and earn your first free bus ticket. Then, you bid your Nana farewell and you're free to embark on the journey in full.

On the road, you'll eventually make four stops in various regions: a wooded forest, a lakeside landscape, an urban city, and finally the mountains themselves. As you travel through each fantastical Scandivian-inspired region, you'll meet a quirky set of characters, like members of the Photo Challenge Guild, a being made of socks (named Sockert) who is missing their socks, and a skeleton annoyed with their ghost roommates, just to name a few.

TOEM's demo allows you to play through the game's opening area, Homelanda, plus the entire first region you'll reach by bus, Oaklaville. Approximately an hour of gameplay is available (if you try for all of the area's goals).

When using your mouse and keyboard, TOEM plays like a traditional point and click adventure. The only difference is that after clicking your way through the environment, you can pull out your camera and snap some shots via a first person perspective.

I was surprised to find that you weren't able to freely move around using WASD controls or even the arrow keys. While off-putting at first, it wasn't difficult to adjust. The thing that felt like a completely missed opportunity is the actual camera control when using mouse and keyboard. When you pull out your camera, you have to click and hold to move your camera and you're unable to snap a photo while you do this, which makes some moving targets a bit finicky to catch.

I was surprised to find that when using controller, not only do you freely move about the space (and the overworld's camera angle as well) using the analog sticks, but the camera's controls are infinitely better as well. You're able to freely aim your camera, zoom in and out, and snap photos at any point while doing that. For those reasons, I super recommend opting for a controller experience, which feels infinitely more natural in comparison.

A two-tiered platform has trees, rocks, and four small kids. The main character is on a ramp that connects the top and bottom tiers of the area.

The game's core loop is perfect for the genre and setting:

1) Enter a region and meet the locals.

2) To progress, earn stamps on your community card to redeem for a free bus pass.

3) In exchange for stamps, you offer your helpful photography services to the community.

4) Take sick photos.

5) Hit the road via public transit when you've reached the number of stamps needed.

6) Profit and repeat.

Helping folks is just a matter of solving simple puzzles, either by using your camera or through unique minigames. Everyone is welcoming, goofy, and endearing as heck. One mission has you gathering a pinecone creature's easily-affronted brothers simply by looking at them too long with your camera so they become uncomfortable and leave the area to join their sibling.

You can also fill a compendium in your album of all the world's critters. There are a ton of extra missions in each area that are unnecessary for progression but are worth experiencing. Thorough exploration will have you unlocking 37 special, and sometimes unexpected, achievements that lead to fun interactions with the game's environment.

With four regions and an hour of gameplay available in just the first area, the full release could be anywhere between four to eight hours, which is perfect for the scale and scope of a game like this. We're all about compact and complete experiences like TOEM.

TOEM's vibe readings are off the chart. The writing is hilarious and comfy, the monochrome simple line art style is perfect in both the isometric view and first person, and the game features some punchy yet simple sound design with some chill tunes (that you play on your adorable Hikelady cassette player) all composed by two fantastic musicians, Launchable Socks and Jamal Green.

In a dialogue bubble, a bear standing at a hotel lobby welcome desk says: "We are in need of some promo art for our hotel!"

I've loved seeing the recent surge in photography-based games in the indie scene — developed in the years before the return of our one true lord Pokémon Snap — and TOEM feels like one of the most unique takes on the "photo adventure" we've seen yet.

We can't wait to get our hands on the full release, but until then, consider checking out the demo when it drops during the Steam Next Fest from June 16 to 22.


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