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Take a break with Toem, a genuinely relaxing photo adventure

Indie photography game Toem is beautiful and sweet, proving that not every fall release needs to be bombastic and loud.

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Toem

Toem Indie Snippet

While it seems like 2021 has become the year for time loop video games, there have also been a number of photography sims released as well. New Pokémon Snap was a well-received boon for fans of the original, and Umurangi Generation‘s Switch release told an ambitious story through its environment and objectives. But not to be forgotten is Toem, a gorgeous, hand-drawn, third-person photography exploration game. Though short, Toem is a perfect balm.

A Warm Blanket

Toem sprang into public consciousness for most when it was revealed during Nintendo’s Indie World Showcase over the summer. After a little gameplay footage, scored by a whistled soundtrack, the trailer cut to live action of two men walking through the woods: Lucas Gullbo and Niklas Mikkelson, the creative heads of Something We Made. Something about the earnestness of these Swedes in the woods talking about their game struck a chord, and it is a delight to say that Toem hits that same level of wholesomeness. Through and through, Toem feels like a hug.

Art direction is key to Toem‘s appeal. Toem is presented almost entirely in black-and-white, but rather than feel limited, the Scandinavian-inspired world bursts with life. The player character is on a journey to observe the Toem phenomenon, which will take them to the top of a mountain far away from home. Their sweet grandma gives them a camera and sends them on their way, but they won’t get far without a bus ticket. Fortunately the ticket-taker is less interested in money and more interested in a stamp-filled community card. Stamps are earned by fulfilling certain tasks around each environment, such as taking a photo of a specific person or object, or a simple fetch quest. Stamps are fairly easy to earn, and once the player has the minimum, it’s off to the next area.

As a photography game, Toem is uncomplicated but supremely satisfying. Nearly everything in the world–from pine trees to snails to the sun itself–can be photographed and placed in an easily accessible compendium. The player can even insert themselves into photos by taking a selfie or using a tripod. Something about taking selfies with fluffy dogs and spiky hedgehogs scratches an itch that other photography games simply do not. There are not as many ways to manipulate camera settings as Umurangi Generation, or tools to edit photos post-snap with stickers and filters as in New Pokémon Snap, but being able to zoom in and out and change up the subjects focused on provides plenty to work with.

Players are encouraged to explore at their leisure and drink in the world. In their quick access wheel, the player can pop on the headphones of their HikeLady (think about it) and listen to any songs from the soundtrack they’ve encountered so far. It’s a gorgeous soundtrack, full of acoustic guitar and mellow synths, perfect music to walk and explore to.

Every new area has a distinct theme, from the woodsy Oaklaville to the snowy peaks of Kiiruberg. Areas are broken up into bite-sized dioramas and players can zoom in or out and pan the camera around to find secrets and photo subjects. Unlike the first-person perspectives of other photography games, Toem lets players see every corner of the world. There are even opportunities to customize the player character with different outfits, and sometimes those outfits even grant access to new areas. There are only four main areas to explore, but there is surprising depth for those willing to look around.

Toem
The community card is like an objectives checklist

Toem encourages players to help NPCs at every turn. Earning stamps is relatively simple, but there are always more stamps to earn in an area than needed for a bus pass. Often, players will find themselves with the minimum amount of stamps needed to move on but will simply want to complete every task in an area because it feels good to be kind. Like Garden Story earlier this summer, the community becomes the focus. The mountain peak is always looming in the distance, but how players get there is just as important as the speed with which they do.

Calling an indie game “cozy” or “wholesome” can be a catch-all term for anything with a cute aesthetic. But Toem truly feels relaxing, a welcome respite from the endless deluge of AAA releases. Everything about it feels designed for players to feel as though they’re taking a breather from their daily stresses. Toem is a beautiful vacation, one players will be eager to return to again and again.

Toem is available now on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and 5, Steam, and the Epic Games Store.

Cameron Daxon is a video game evangelist and enthusiastic reader. He lives in Los Angeles, California and once nearly collided with Shigeru Miyamoto during E3. His favorite game is Bloodborne, but only when he’s not revisiting Super Mario World. He’s also in the writer’s room for YouTube personality The Completionist and other places on the internet.

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