Monkey Island and Maniac Mansion creators Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick had a big challenge on their hands to live up to the past success of their own careers with Thimbleweed Park. However, the retro revival exemplifies everything brilliant about the point-and-click genre, and once again proves that the duo are a match made in heaven.
While the game opens as a murder mystery, it steadily turns into something much more. With the help of its five slightly bizarre playable characters in Federal Agents Reyes and Ray, aspiring video games developer Delores, her father Franklin the toy maker, and Ransome the insult clown, you engage with the world and it’s weird inhabitants at a pace that is comfortably your own. Whatever pace you choose though, the jokes and shameless puns always come thick and fast.
Thimbleweed Park is a game that never forgets its humble beginning as a crowdfunded Kickstarter campaign. From the books in the libraries to the names in the town phone book- this game is one big thank you to the fans who supported it through development- all 15,623 of them. Naturally, these are the players who would get the most out of such a game: the point-and-click genre isn’t as fast paced or straightforward as many gamers today would appreciate. But the slow pace of Thimbleweed Park leaves players enough freedom to explore the map, appreciate the views and return to puzzle solving without losing track of what is needed, thanks to the To Do lists of each character. This is perfect for students looking for a game to take the edge off, rather than stimulate all of the senses with intense cinematography or quick-paced combat.
The greatest asset of Thimbleweed Park, and the vital source of its quick wit and humour, is that it never pretends to be anything it’s not. The genre has undoubtedly evolved, especially recently with the likes of Telltale Games pushing the boundaries of what can be achieved with the point-and-click format. However, Thimbleweed Park is a keen and welcome reminder that traditional gameplay can still be fun, engaging and charming.
“Everything in Thimbleweed Park is a bit unusual.”
Great writing is key to the success of any point-and-click adventure game. Thimbleweed Park is full of colourful townies to chat to, and Gilbert and Winnick achieve success in a script that allows the five playable characters to interact with the world in vastly different ways. Their attitudes and idioms drive the player to approach Thimbleweed Park with a fresh pair of eyes upon changing character, despite the core mechanics never changing. Whether it’s witnessing the hilarious bitterness of Ransome as he swears at just about everything (including the player) or catching on to the ironic humour created through character narration which breaks the fourth wall frequently, Thimbleweed Park manages to engage with the player in ways that bigger titles just can’t get away with. The rules are slightly bent for this neo-noir mystery, but then again everything in Thimbleweed Park is a bit unusual. The journey to solving just why this is not your average town is absolutely a memorable one.
Navigating a world with five very different playable characters may appear overwhelming. However, swapping between characters is quick and easy, and is useful for taking a break when you seem to have hit a dead end with a certain character’s progression or arc. Additionally, the Item-based and Verb-driven solving system, a classic feature of the point-and-click format, is kept malleable rather than limiting. Some of the many puzzles around the town require the player to really think outside the box, whereas other times the solutions are simple, but only if approached with the right frame of mind. Instead of tedious puzzle solving, it is totally satisfying to correctly navigate character interaction and have those little ‘eureka!’ moments when applying the right item and commands at the right time.
“The simplistic nature of the pixelated graphics is what makes this game so beautiful.”
In the current climate of gaming, cinematic quality dominates the industry. Yet Thimbleweed Park boldly stands apart, and it is all the more refreshing for it. Not only is the story set in 1987, but the retro art style makes this game look like something straight out of that era while never seeming outdated or recycled. , and brings the declining town to life. Synthetic and electronic snippets on the soundtrack add nicely to the 80s vibe, and if that still isn’t enough for you, there is an additional option in the controls to add further retro fonts to the game display, for those players who really appreciate the point-and-click nostalgia.
The casual mode is enough to get your mind thinking and solving puzzles at a satisfying rate, without too much frustration. This mode does not include all of the puzzles, and this leads to stagnant items clogging up the inventory. This can mean time-consuming theories bog down gameplay: you can get stuck. Players prone to collecting and exploring, even if new to the adventure game genre, are perhaps better suited to the hard mode option, which contains all of the puzzles for a longer and trickier play time.
The genius of Thimbleweed Park will get you asking questions you never thought you would need in a gameplay situation. What do I need this empty tin of tuna for? Do I need to kill off the hamster? Should I open the toilet? And if the town and its inhabitants leave you with anything other than a delightful sense of curiosity, it is certainly an increased stash of puns and jokes. And also an odd suspicion of that Sherriff… or was it the Coroner…or the Hotel Manager?!