Having seen a few screenshots and trailers for Misfits Attic’s A Virus Named TOM, I still didn’t really know exactly what it was. But I did know it looked fast, chaotic and a lot of fun. From there, one thing led to another and I now find myself writing this review. Having actually played it, I can say it’s quite different to what I had in mind, but I was definitely right with the “fast, chaotic and a lot of fun” part.

The story unfolds as a mad scientist-type, with the highly original name of Dr. X, gets a little upset about losing his job as an inventor. He’d worked there for a while, and invented all sorts of contraptions for them — from robotic dogs that don’t poo, to a futuristic “Holo-Suit” which makes you appear that little bit more muscular. Since being fired, though, he turned to inventing TOM. As the game’s title suggests, TOM is a virus, and he’s who you’ll be taking control of in the game as he’s unleashed upon the circuitry of Dr. X’s previous creations.

The basic idea is simple, you move around a grid, upon which is a circuit design. To finish a level, you have to rotate the squares so that the circuit is lined up and every piece is powered. A score is then given based upon how well you did. The first few levels ease you into things nicely, with new components being added in such as enemies, or encryptions that stop you from being able to see some of the pieces until powered. The great thing is, though, new ideas and challenges just don’t stop coming, right the way through.

You eventually become able to drop glitches that can halt an enemy in their tracks, and all sorts of tactics come into play as you try to manage energy levels (which keeps you alive) while also trying to line up glitches so that enemies will collide. Each time something new is added, it kicks your butt just enough to point you in the right direction. The learning curve is perfect, but gives enough room to let you figure it out on your own. If you’re really stuck, skip tokens that are earned throughout can be spent to move onto the next level — which provides a great alternative to ‘rage-quitting’ with that combination of Alt+F4.

Co-op doubles both the fun, and the frustration…

There’s enough levels to keep you going a while in single player, with the scoring system and Steam Leaderboards tempting you to do it better next time. This mode in itself constitutes a lot of game, and the gameplay, story videos, and the cuteness of TOM himself (itself?) will keep you well amused. However, there’s more. A co-operative mode really livens things up, as well as giving you someone to laugh it off with when TOM repeatedly dies. It’s currently local co-op only, and that’s partly why this review’s a bit late as I lined up a worthy co-op partner, but a network mode is said to be on  the way.

While I waited for this illustrious co-op partner, I was intrigued as to how the mode would work. When I came to  play it, it was implemented as cleverly as everything in the single player. Following the same story, it offers similar levels that are slightly tweaked or enlarged to work with more than one player. It also mixes things up almost as much the solo mode; sometimes players are limited to certain parts which force communication, as do the levels that allow you to roam freely. Giggles (or friendly slaps) will be had as your partner figures it out, lines up most of the grid, only to realise you’ve gone behind them and mixed it all up again.

Mark your territory in Battle Mode.

The final local multiplayer mode may cause even more arguments. It allows you to go head to head against one another in a game mode that’s familiar to something I used to play on paper grids, where you’d take turns to mark squares and try to colour as much in your colour as possible. You know the one, right? The difference here is there’s none of this polite, taking turns business. You’re racing against the clock to cover as much of the grid as possible, you can kill each other, and when you do that player’s squares are up for grabs. “Quickly, steal the squares” was yelled at my own on-screen TOM many times. Between this and the co-op (and ideally two gamepads), A Virus Named TOM will give you and a friend a night of gaming that reminds me of the fun I had years ago, sitting in-front of my Nintendo with school-friends. I say two gamepads (or more), as you could use a keyboard and a gamepad, which works, but doesn’t feel quite as right for the player stuck on the keyboard.

There’s a couple of tiny issues to mention. The first is not having any online multiplayer at present, although I am kind of thankful it forced me into playing locally with a friend. The other is that is appears to be stuck at a 16:9 resolution and on my 16:10 monitor I had a black border surrounding the game window in fullscreen. It gets a mention, but in no way affects gameplay. It’s also the sort of thing that we can forgive in an indie game at this price point, with a hope the developer takes it into account next time around.

For a debut title, A Virus Named TOM does a lot of things right that seasoned veterans can often misjudge or struggle with. There’s no way you can come away from it without having smiled, and if you’ve got someone to play with locally the multiplayer modes are just wonderful. Games are judged upon many merits, but to me the most important is always whether or not I’ve had fun. A Virus Named TOM has given me more of that than I ever expected.

Score: 4/5