Video games are often cited as exceptional, engaging ways to experience adventures we couldn’t otherwise. Lead an army, save a village, kill the Evil One (™). Other games allow us to process emotions through art or grow in how we view the world, oftentimes in terms of building relationships, witnessing someone else struggle with some psychological illness, or living through the memories of an old man. Yet another type of game has increasingly grown in popularity: chill, relaxing micro-adventures. These types of games have us playing for a couple of hours to climb a mountain, nurture a farm, or simply take pictures for our friends. TOEM is the latter example, and it pulls off the vibes with precision.
TOEM tasks our little hero with following a family tradition of taking a picture of the fabled TOEM. Of course, to do so, our friend has to work their way across the land through bus rides, but to earn the ticket to ride the bus, they must help the denizens of key locations using their trusty camera. Relatable, to be sure. Examples of these tasks involve assisting with marketing campaigns, capturing wildlife in the woods, seeking mythic creatures, etc.
That’s the game, really. Five or so destinations exist with bite-size quests until our friend reaches the TOEM, whatever that is. Each NPC has a surface-level personality that executes capably in this miniature format. Most locations boast 13 to 16 or so quests, and after achieving about half of those, the bus dude gives you your ticket to go to the next place.
The camera does a little more than simply take pictures, though. Eventually, it gets decked out with toys like a horn or a tripod to assist in some quests. Sometimes just staring at something with the zoom feature is all that’s needed. Attire changes the look of the lead and can even offer abilities, such as seeing ghosts or going underwater. Occasionally, they just make noise. It’s adorable.
Primarily, I fell in love with TOEM because of the nature of discovery and navigation. Each town has diorama-esque locations with ladders to climb, houses to go in, or people standing around outside. Little bugs or animals scurry about, waiting to have their picture taken as a separate collectible. To leave the location, just click the arrow and move to the next rotatable diorama.
Minimalistic graphics are a tiring trend in indie games, and while I sympathize with developers’ inability to find (or pay for) professional graphic designers, games usually need to look good. To pull off the minimalistic look is even more challenging these days. TOEM meets the challenge and exudes charm. The little stick-arm people and bold, black lines bring this world to life. Most locations are well-decorated and feel like homes or forests or whatever they’re supposed to represent. Extraneous amenities offer a sense of place and personality that clinch the vibes.
Of course, what’s a chill video game without relaxing music? TOEM has tunes that fit the world and atmosphere exceptionally well, though sometimes when shifting between places, the music just stops, and I was met with silence. I’m not sure why the music doesn’t continue, or a separate track doesn’t begin—it would certainly be preferable—but this is a minor grievance against the hit to immersion. On the whole, TOEM is a healthy marriage of visuals, music, and writing to achieve the feel it sets out to.
Occasionally, I became frustrated for the briefest of moments as I didn’t fully understand how to execute what someone was asking for. I took pictures, got my tripod out, honked, stared at what I thought they wanted—I just couldn’t do it. In these instances, it’s usually best to leave and come back later. That’s part of the wonder of TOEM: nothing demands urgency. A quest isn’t jiving with you? Just don’t do it. With progression hidden behind a mere 50% completion rate for each location, moving on is a sinch.
A casual speedrun to just get to the end will run about two hours, but if TOEM is played how it’s “intended,” then expect to get a few hours out of it, while completionists might hit five or more. If content’s your concern, there it is, but if a high-quality, easygoing experience to escape the anxiety of these pandemic times—or whatever ails you—then TOEM works wonders. The world needs more TOEM, and it’s been a pleasure to get to live in this meditative place, even if only for a short while.