A Virus Named Tom developer Tim Keenan of Misfits Attic makes a point to mention the uniqueness of his game's 54 local multiplayer levels to every potential reviewer, in almost every email.
He has good reason to do so.
A Virus Named Tom is a tile-flipping exercise in cartoonish hacking simliar to Pipe Dream, but with a Jetsons-like futuristic twist. As the single-player campaign ramps up in difficulty, it becomes a challenging, stressful and exhilarating test of dexterity and logic – but A Virus Named Tom is better as a multiplayer game, if only so you don't feel so idiotic for failing to solve yet another grid-based puzzle on the first try.
After all, failing with a friend is always better than failing alone. Take those suckers down with you.
The single-player campaign in A Virus Named Tom tells the story of Dr. X, an eccentric inventor turned mad scientist after he is fired by gluttonous corporation Mega-Tech, where he created all the necessities of the future. Dr. X's robotic dogs, holo-suits, teleporters and walkways of tomorrow become his means of revenge, as he attempts to infect each one with – wait for it – a virus named Tom.
You play as Tom, rotating pieces of electronic synapse along a grid until each tube connects to a glowing green orb and it all lights up, unleashing the bug. There is a dark sense of accomplishment in playing as a means of destruction, an adorable anti-hero who infects teleporters to such a degree that they cause a grown man's heart to spatially shift outside of the rest of his body. Don't let those cartoony graphics fool you – A Virus Named Tom means business.
Beyond the campaign, there are the multiplayer levels, which, depending on your partner, are obstacles all to themselves. I played two-player co-op – the game supports up to four – and I instantly recognized the joy in failure when it's shared between friends. (There is no online co-op, though a possible Kickstarter could change that.) Failing a puzzle in single-player mode is upsetting, but when you can blame at least half of the loss on another person (preferably one whom you care about deeply), it's much more enjoyable.
As a local multiplayer game on PC, having the correct set-up for a full four-player game is difficult to pull off, so we played with one person on keyboard, one with a controller, and one professional programmer calling out moves from the sidelines like a team manager. A Virus Named Tom thrives on closed circuits and speedy perfection, and I highly recommend hiring your own programmer to provide hints and solutions to each puzzle.
Multiplayer adds a layer of complexity not seen in the single-player campaign, with the grid sometimes separated down the middle by an electric wall that keeps each player on his own side, and enabling synchronous explosions of the anti-virus bugs, which lights up the grid in completion. There's a versus mode as well, but we ran into each other (on purpose) enough in co-op that we didn't even think to try that one out.
It's no coincidence that the virus pipes resemble Riddler question marks – the puzzles can be just as difficult to complete as the criminal mastermind's enigmas, and even more frustrating because the solution is literally right there. I suggest you grab a friend, hire a programmer (pay him in energy drinks), and start spreading the love. Er, the virus.
This article is based on a download of A Virus Named Tom, provided by Misfits Attic. A Virus Named Tom is available on PC now for $10. A Virus Named Tom is part of PAX Prime's Indie Megabooth, and will be 50 percent off for anyone who buys it there, and 25 percent off through its website August 31 - September 3.