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Toem is a charming photography game in black and white

Toem is a delightful game about photography. Its emphasis on exploration and low stakes felt vastly different from another photography game I played this year, New Pokémon Snap. And to my surprise, I enjoyed Toem a lot more.

In Toem, developed by Swedish indie studio Something We Made, you play as a character armed with a camera who wanders through a number of different themed areas, such as a forest and a city, taking pictures of what you find along the way. The bulk of your exploration takes place from an isometric point of view, but when you use your camera, the game shifts to a first-person perspective, often giving you a whole new look at the world around you.

Usually, you’ll use your camera to take pictures of animals, interesting landmarks, or specific things for a quest. But sometimes, that first-person view is the only way to see some things that might be out of sight while in the isometric view, such as what might be under a bridge. That encouraged me to constantly pick up my camera as I was playing and scan the world around me.

Toem’s charming black-and-white art style is a joy to take in; I especially liked how things looked like they’re made from paper and cardboard. The characters, meanwhile, seem as if they were plucked right out of a Nickelodeon cartoon. The sound design is also excellent. There are a lot of pleasant music tracks that help you settle into the game’s relaxed mood, and characters speak in charming gibberish like what you might have heard in Celeste.

To progress through Toem, you accept quests to take certain photos or to find items in the world. Once you complete enough quests, you can advance to the next area. Often, the tasks you can complete are quite silly, such as bringing a ghost to a perfect date spot or finding a lost balloon so it can attend its birthday party. And you don’t need to do every available quest to be able to move onto the next area, so if you can’t figure one out, it’s not a big deal.

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The game encourages you to explore each nook and cranny, gives you a lot of freedom in how to go about things, and has a wonderful playfulness about it all. It also made me realize just how much I hope the next Pokémon Snap borrows from it.

I was really excited for New Pokémon Snap, but I found its structure, which forces you down curated routes that you have to play repeatedly (and, for a good chunk of the game, without any way to boost through them), to be frustratingly limiting. I also didn’t like how you could miss photo opportunities; it added an unnecessary level of anxiety to a game about calm nature rides.

Toem, by contrast, is a lot more relaxed and open, and for me, that lets me have a lot more fun playing photographer. I always had my eye out for things like hidden animals in the trees, cool graffiti on walls, or even just somebody’s cat. And without any pressure or punishment to miss a photo, I was much more motivated to snap anything that looked interesting or seek out certain photos to help out a quest-giver.

When I played New Pokémon Snap earlier this year, I wanted it to recapture the feeling of discovery I had while playing the original on Nintendo 64. Instead, it was a black-and-white game that asked me to photograph a deer DJ that brought me back to that time.

Toem launches September 17th on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 5, and PC.