Adventure games are enjoying some of the best years the genre has seen in a long while, with most of that resurgence pegged on TellTale’s many series. But who better to show the proverbial kid’s how it’s done than two of the most successful designers of the graphic adventure game? Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick, both co-designers on Maniac Mansion, have returned with Thimbleweed Park, a new point-and-click adventure game that is incredibly self-aware of where it is in the gaming landscape.
Thimbleweed Park: PlayStation 4, Xbox One [Reviewed], Android, iOS, Windows PC, Linux, Mac
Developer: Ron Gilbert & Gary Winnick
Publisher: Terrible Toybox
Release Date: 30 March 2017
Price: £16.74 [Disclosure: Game Copy Provided by Publisher]
Thimbleweed Park takes place in 1987 and opens with a murder that quickly becomes one of many problems you will face. Early on, Thimbleweed Park‘s focus is squarely on the murder but even in its early stages, there’s something going on that’s not quite right. Thimbleweed‘s cast of characters feel like they could be right at home on any new TV show, and exploring the playable character’s histories feels very rewarding.
Among the five characters are the Federal Agents Ray and Reyes who both come to solve the murder but have other independent goals in mind. Just outside of the town of Thimbleweed Park is Ransome, a cursed insult clown that loves to curse, and Delores, a programming whiz who is set to inherit a fortune. The last character you get to play as is Franklin, a ghost that can’t move on and is trapped in a hotel. Each character has clearly defined goals and stakes in the plot of Thimbleweed Park, and yet only Agent Ray’s story feels forced and out of place.
It’s the overarching story that becomes Thimbleweed Park’s strongest asset, and while it’s there, it bucks current trends too. You won’t find a branching narrative or different endings here, Thimbleweed has a very specific story to tell and it doesn’t lose that focus. The story ends up being a smooth blend of police procedural, occult fantasy, and science fiction that wants nothing more than to be a humble slice of entertaining pie.
Thimbleweed Park as a setting constantly feels eerie. Dilapidated buildings with boarded doors and windows line the few streets the small town has. Each environment feels part of a greater cohesive whole, showing a real history to the rise and fall of the town. While Thimbleweed Park embraces mostly drab or darker environments, some opulence remains from the town’s heyday.
It’s in these environments where what lighting there is gets used to great effect, especially when a character passes by a glowing object. The pixelated appearance of Thimbleweed Park is used to great effect as well, and serves to add to the charm that comes out of it.
Part of that charm is how well Thimbleweed Park is aware of the 30-year gap between its setting and when it’s been released. It’s certainly not afraid to use the present as an “arbitrary date” or to lampoon the fads of the ’80s. However, the mood in Thimbleweed Park is one that swings from tragedy to comedy and back again with remarkable ease. It’s a storytelling balancing act that doesn’t have too much of either and instead is on the mark.
Thimbleweed Park‘s gameplay is what you might expect from a game described as a point-and-click adventure title, but for those that don’t know: you will be interacting with your environment by picking a verb, and then one or two objects. This leads to simple gameplay that also rewards experimentation.
At the beginning of gameplay, you can choose between two game modes: hard and casual. Hard mode is the classic way to play with puzzles that take more steps but doesn’t offer hints. Casual offers the player a tutorial, auditory hints from characters, and skips steps in solving puzzles.
In Casual mode, for example, Ransome already has objects that will prove useful later in gameplay. (If playing on Hard, you would need to seek out the same or similar objects from locations in the game) Still, there is great simplicity in the gameplay and only one side-diversion that doesn’t get in the way and allows the plot to stand nearly on its own.
While the simplicity of the gameplay is a highlight, Thimbleweed Park also succeeds for being largely devoid of pauses. Only on a few occasions did the game pause before launching a dialogue exchange. Also, the few times I did need to load a previously saved file, it was nearly instantaneous. It may be a simpler title, but even the rereleases of the Monkey Island series had longer loading times.
If there is one unremarkable part about Thimbleweed Park, it’s its music. Compared to the dialogue, the music rarely comes to the forefront and is meant instead to be in the background or simply offer sounds of the surrounding wilderness. The dialogue for each of the playable characters as well as the supporting cast are well acted and most are distinct. Playing as Ransome can get tiring, however, as whenever he curses there is a beep that plays over his words.
Thimbleweed Park was designed carefully to embrace the same aesthetic as the character-driven adventure games of the late ’80s and ’90s. The same elements that made classic LucasArts games like Monkey Island and Maniac Mansion stand the test of time is embedded deep into Thimbleweed Park. It confidently succeeds as a self-contained story that is incredibly self-aware of the time period it was created but plants one pixelated foot in past it remembers fondly.
- Well paced and self-contained story is a delight to play
- Timeless gameplay works just as well as it did 30 years ago
- Puzzles are mostly logical; experimentation is rewarded
- Agent Rey’s story doesn’t work as well as the others
- Not much value in replayability
- Doesn’t try anything new with the genre