2021 has unexpectedly become the year of the photography game. Photo modes have become a staple of big budget games recently, but there’s nothing that excites me more than using photography as a mechanic. After years of waiting for more titles that appeal to the Pokemon Snap portion of my brain, we’ve had a sequel, the stylish Umurangi Generation, and now Toem.
As a young protagonist setting out to explore the gorgeous greyscale world, your mother gives you an old camera and sends you off to witness the magical phenomenon known as Toem atop a nearby mountain. Thankfully for your adventurous character, the nearby villages all offer free bus travel if you help their citizens with their problems. It’s a heart-warming coming of age story brimming with positivity and photography.
Exploring the beautiful environments of Toem is an absolute treat. As you wander around the busy streets of Logcity or the beautiful docks of Stanhamn the isometric view will let you scope out the world for anything of interest, be it adorable animals, spooky ghosts or graffiti. Once you grab your camera for a quick snap the view immediately switches to first person, allowing you to see the world from a new perspective and maybe even revealing something you couldn’t see before.
Armed with your trusty hand-me-down camera, you’ll be given all manner of tasks to accomplish on your journey. There’s the owner of a huge tree hotel who wants a photo framing the entire “building” for an advert. Another sees you dealing with a monster obsessed kid who wants pictures of all manner of beasties he’s heard stories about. A few return between stages too, like the simple photo challenges given to you by a scout or the secret agent who wants photos of a suspicious man everywhere he goes.
There are some occasions where the camera alone won’t help you solve a problem, and you’ll need to switch up your outfit to progress to Toem. To see some otherwise invisible ghosts you’ll need ghost vision glasses, or to attend a fashion show you’ll need to dress up like a reporter. These equippable clothing items can be found in all corners of the world, and add a little extra depth to the game’s charming little puzzles. Some are even completely irrelevant to your adventure, but if you want to walk slower in a pair of clogs for no reason at all then who am I to stop you.
As a huge Pokémon Snap fan, my immediate instinct when holding a camera in a game is to take a pic of a cute critter. Toem knows that adorable animal pictures are the most important aspect of photography too, and offers you a completely optional goal of snapping all the animals you come across. There’s no real reason to take the game up on this offer, but I loved exploring every inch of the environment for a stray beetle or a pet rock.
Perhaps my favourite thing about Toem is just how playfully it invites you to explore it. By integrating photography directly into the mechanics of the game it creates a “photo mode” I actually wanted to use. I found myself taking photos of objects I didn’t need to for my quest constantly, even swapping to selfie mode to get all sorts of daft and joyful pics for my album. There don’t have to be rules or reasons for what you do in Toem, it’s your own photography playground.
I wouldn’t have connected half as much with the wonderful world of Toem if not for how it looks. No other game has ever managed to capture the “2d models in a 3d world” style as well as Paper Mario before, but coupled with the black and white palette Toem is truly stunning. Shades of grey perfectly bring the flora and fauna to life, and the pure style of it all makes the journey to the top of the mountain even sweeter.
It’s probably worth mentioning that Toem is a particularly short game if you don’t stop and snap the roses. From start to finish I clocked in under 3 hours with the game, and only a few objectives hadn’t been completed in that time. The optional extra like achievements and photographing each animal can bump this up, but if you aren’t aiming to go crazy with the camera you’ll probably be done in one sitting.
Toem is a relaxing and heartwarming take on the photography game, with no time limits or lives to spoil the laid back vibes. Exploring the beautiful world taking snaps (be they important for progression or otherwise) filled me with joy from start to finish. It may be a little on the brief side, but I won’t soon forget my time trekking my way up the mountain and helping people on the way.
Plenty of things to snap
Beautiful black and white world
Objectives are interesting
A bit brief