Toem is a vibe. There’s something immediately strange and enticing about a greyscale (what photographer types would call black and white) photography game. It’s a strange quirk, but one that works incredibly well, both mechanically and for its the storyline.
In this game, our young protagonist is given an old camera by their grandmother, a like-minded shutterbug, and told to venture off into the world in search of the legendary phenomenon, the Toem.
I remember once being given a camera by my own grandparents, but what you get a hold of in Toem this is somewhat more high-tech than what we had back in the 90’s. At the start of the game, it just has a basic front- and rear-facing lens and a digital photo album. Oh, and a dynamic zoom, which the locals absolutely love.
Getting to the Toem is no mean feat, but thankfully your camera (and its dynamic zoom) come in incredibly useful. Everything seems to work on an honours system here, and the concierge at each bus station along the way will grant you free trips if you do enough good deeds in each region.
These good deeds — you guessed it — involve helping the locals with your camera. Help a person and get a stamp on your card; get enough stamps and you get to the next area.
Sometimes, these are simple requests, like photographing a bear’s hotel for marketing material or snapping photos for someone’s social media. Other requests are little more unusual, such as spying on a mysterious figure or taking photos of something fluffy for the local yeti. There are more cryptic photography challenges interspersed throughout the game too, which requires the occasional bit of lateral thinking, and challenges which rely entirely on the dynamic zoom, using your camera as a telescope to guide locals through everything from a game of hide-and-seek to conducting a full-on search and rescue.
As with most photography games, if you fancy stopping and snapping photos of the local fauna, there’s a compendium of animal photos that you keep, Pokédex style, which is always a neat addition.
While there are no level-up mechanics to speak of, playing through the game unlocks new outfits and camera add-ons, which in turn unlock new areas and abilities. The air horn, for example, is a weird thing to chuck on a camera, but you can use it to move seagulls or break ice that’s blocking your path. Likewise, collecting outfits, such as a press pass helps gain you access to new areas. I can confirm that this also works in real life.
While you can easily finish the game in three hours, there’s no shortage of things to do in Toem, especially if you’re after 100%-ing this quirky little indie. That said, the game isn’t perfect. There are a few UI quirks that are a little clunky, and the fact that the game is relentlessly upbeat means that the narrative can feel a little flat and unreal. However, this is a game that’s supposed to help you unwind and relax, so if you’ve come here looking for compelling storylines, this probably isn’t the game for you. Toem is such a short game, there’s not really much else to say that doesn’t start veering into spoiler territory.