Game Review: Thimbleweed Park

Alan Stock Alan Stock
Expert Contributor
September 25th, 2017

I'm a lover of travel, photography and video games, from the UK. I have worked in the games industry and very passionate about games and their design. Never get bored of them!

Thimbleweed Park is a point and click adventure game out now on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Android and IoS. Alan Stock enjoys a blast to the past in this review for ComiConverse.

Thimbleweed Park comes from the creative mind of Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick. These videogame veterans rose to prominence from the older LucasArt point and click adventure games, such as Maniac Mansion and Monkey Island. Gilbert developed the SCUMM scripting language which was used to make other LucasArt classics like Day of the Tentacle, Full Throttle and Indiana Jones: Fate of Atlantis. With the crowdfunded Thimbleweed Park, Gilbert and Winnick went back to their roots to create a 2D point and click adventure sharing the same DNA as LucasArt games. Its retro charm is a big selling point for those nostalgic for a genre which these days rarely graces gamer’s screens.

MORE NEWS FROM THE WEB

One look at Thimbleweed Park immediately recalls the LucasArt heyday. Pixelated sprite graphics and a point and click interface combine with an inventory and verb commands on the bottom of the screen. Despite the old-skool aesthetic, it's been modernised with some great real time lighting and other effects. Along with detailed layered backgrounds and a strong art design it’s one of the most attractive point and click games to date. A moody score (fortunately the nostalgia didn’t extend to including chip tune music) and full voice acting make this a far cry from the primitive in comparison Maniac Mansion. Gilbert has said that Thimbleweed Park is a spiritual sequel to that game and the Monkey Island series, and it definitely shows.

The retro influence extends beyond the visual presentation. The game is set in the 1980’s (when Gilbert worked at LucasArts), with constant references to the time period throughout. There is even an 80’s quiz at one point you may have to use Google to find the answers for. Thimbleweed Park has a huge number of nods and in-house jokes towards LucasArt titles and game development in general. The self-referential humour can get a bit too much though, at times reaching cringeworthy levels. Gilbert and Winnick even appear in the game. Cleverly though, some of this does pay off in the overall plotline, but it doesn’t really excuse the self-indulgence on show here.

Thimbleweed Park is a murder mystery inspired by TV shows like The X-Files and Twin Peaks. You control two FBI agents with hidden agendas investigating a murder in the weird, mostly abandoned town of Thimbleweed Park. As the story develops, you start to unearth more questions and secrets of the ghost town and its motley inhabitants, and learn what’s really been going on. Gradually more characters are added into the player roster, which you can switch between at will. Playable flashback sequences give background on these new additions and also provide good pacing milestones in the overarching storyline. These are essential as the pace is quite meandering initially, with an emphasis on investigation and exploration, only gaining focus later on as you start to piece the story together and solve puzzles over multiple areas of the region. The story though is compelling enough that you want to see it through and find the answers to all your questions.

Story continues below

 

The characters are a varied crew. Reyes and Ray, the two FBI agents are a classic duo clearly inspired by Mulder and Scully of The X-Files. Reyes is sarcastic and all business, Ray more lighthearted and enthusiastic. Ransome, an obnoxious, failed clown joins the roster, as does Delores, a young girl game developer and finally, you’ll even control a ghost. The town's remaining colourful residents are well realised and memorable as you’d expect from ex-LucasArt developers, from the roving reporter, to the cynical diner lady and the stoned convenience store employee. Witty dialogue is at the fore, with many optional dialogue trees to explore and lots of jokes.

Thimbleweed Park has the whacky sense of humour you’ll recognise from old LucasArt games, and whether the humour is in conversations, the background or scripted events will hit the mark will depend a lot on what makes you chuckle. Personally, I didn’t find the game particularly funny, only amusing at times, but it’s certainly entertaining. You never really know what’s coming next from the minds of Gilbert and Winnick. One joke may fall flat, the next might raise a smile. I definitely feel that LucasArt games like Monkey Island and Day of the Tentacle were much funnier, but it doesn’t really get in the way of the game’s quality. If this is your kind of humour, you’ll be overjoyed, as the jokes flow continually. Sometimes though, the zaniness and childish humour does grate, particularly with characters like Ramsey the clown, an irritating presence whose bleeped out obscenities get old very fast.

 

Point and click adventures rely on puzzles to drive their gameplay. You can use verb commands like “Use”, “Push”, or “Open” on objects and characters in the environment, or pick up items and use them on things in the game world. It's in these interactions that Thimbleweed Park really shines. There are tons of puzzles to solve throughout the game from the straightforward to the complex. Once you uncover more areas of Thimbleweed Park, there’s a huge number of places to explore and characters to interact with, not to mention your own roster of heroes each with their own skills and inventories. Whilst in older games like point and click classic Discworld, this could mean hours of fruitlessly searching for solutions, scouring backgrounds for tiny hidden objects or randomly trying items on everything, in Thimbleweed Park there’s always logic behind the answers. Many of the game's puzzles require some thought and some are quite ingenious or complex, but they always make sense in retrospect - even if at the time you were stumped.

The game does a good job of giving you lots of situations where it's clear a puzzle will be needed to make progress. Locked doors, items under guard, broken machinery, ToDo lists in characters inventories, and so on. You generally have a good idea of what you need to do, the trick is, how will you do it? Thimbleweed Park has quite an open structure similar to Maniac Mansion and Day of the Tentacle, where there are always lots of puzzles that can be solved at any one time, and only a few roadblocks to impede your progress. These usually come in the form of events which move the storyline forward, and can make puzzle solving harder. Sometimes things in the environment change when the story moves on, finally giving you a way to get past a puzzle you’d tried so hard earlier to solve. But it goes both ways, the payoff is that there’s always plenty of items in your inventory, potential solutions and ideas floating around in your head. This makes brute force solutions much more difficult and really forces you to think about the problems. Solving these conundrums in Thimbleweed Park is generally extremely satisfying, it features some of the best puzzles to date in a point and click adventure.

However, it’s not all perfect. There are some puzzles that are very hard, obscure or require certain leaps of logic that many players will miss. With so many puzzles this is perhaps inevitable. I got stuck a few times and found lots of others online had the same sticking points - like one point where you must talk to a particular side character, but the dialogue option you need only appears for one of your five heroes. But, unlike old point and click adventures, there are some safety nets here. First of all there is an Easy mode, for those who just want to enjoy the story. Puzzles are less complex on Easy and some are cut out all together. Personally I wouldn’t recommend playing on Easy as the well designed puzzles are a big fun factor of the game.

Story continues below

Secondly, the developers included an in-game hint system. Gilbert apparently was completely against the idea but bowed to crowdfunder pressure - and it was the right call. Rather than have to look up spoiler-filled walkthroughs online if you get stuck, there is an in-game hint line you can call by using telephones in the game world. The game detects where you are in the storyline and you can ask questions about particular things you might be stuck on, with it giving you more and more detailed hints. It’s a great solution to a common problem in puzzle games; getting stuck for hours. You don’t have to use this crutch but if you’re really and truly stuck, it’s a very welcome addition and a nice diegetic nod to old real-life telephone hint systems.

On top of a few sticking-point puzzles, there are some other gripes. In the mid-game there are a number of unskippable sequences which you’ll see again and again as you try to figure out puzzles. One is a long ladder climb, but the worst is a hotel elevator you must wait to arrive when you call it, and once inside are trapped inside as it travels between twelve floors, forced to watch them slowly ding up or down. You’ll be using that elevator a lot, as there’s a lot of puzzles to solve in the hotel - it gets pretty infuriating. The game also did a poor job of informing me I could skip dialogue I’d already seen, which I only discovered later in my run. The characters in your roster barely interact outside of their initial conversations and ferrying them around and transferring items between them can be tedious. Although there's fast travel and a fast walk for your characters, you’ll still spend a lot of time moving them around the same areas again and again, as you hunt for solutions.

It’s easy to forgive these flaws though, as Thimbleweed Park is a charming game overall. The story, characters and atmosphere of this little ghost town keep you involved, and the puzzles are engaging and well designed as a whole. It’s a long game too - for a point and click adventure - 15-20 hours if you don’t play on Easy mode, but still only gets dull if you’re really stumped. There’s always some problem to work on, and the imagination of Gilbert and co means you can never predict what random thing will happen next. It may be a bit thick on its retro vibe, self-referential humour, and old puzzle game trappings, but as a swansong to the point and click era, Thimbleweed Park definitely succeeds. It’s great that decades after the genre’s heyday, a new point and click adventure game can still be fun whilst offering a better, smoother gameplay experience and more presentational polish than those classics ever did. Long live the point and click adventure!

(Visited 20 times, 1 visits today)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Yes No