Remember Maniac Mansion? Thimbleweed Park sure does. Its whole visual aesthetic is a modern (yet still pixellated) update of the classic’s big-headed art style. What about The Secret of Monkey Island? Thimbleweed Park will make sure you never forget it. It makes a subtle or not-so-subtle reference made to it almost every five minutes. It borders on excessive, really. Hey, remember Deathspank? Okay, Thimbleweed Park, unfortunately, doesn’t recall that one. Which is too bad, that’s an XBLA classic.
In case you didn’t know, all the games I mentioned above were developed by the legendary Ron Gilbert. His newest game, the aforementioned Thimbleweed Park, is built upon his years of experience making point-and-click adventures. Taking place in 1987 (the year Maniac Mansion was released), the game puts you in control of agents Ray and Reyes, and multiple other characters, the day after a mysterious murder. Their investigation is underway to find out just what happened the night before, but there’s a lot more to the sleepy town of Thimbleweed Park than meets the eye.
Here’s what I liked:
Back in my day – If you’ve ever played a LucasArts game, you know exactly how this plays. Pick a verb from the bottom of the screen, pick something from the world or your inventory, then listen to the resulting snarky dialogue. It’s old-school gameplay at it’s finest. Puzzle design is fantastic; every solution is simple and logical, leaving nothing to require random guesses and dumb luck. Of course, logical doesn’t mean easy; there were moments where I did get stuck, but those moments never lasted too long. In fact, the biggest challenge to overcome is the game’s scope. With a whole small town to explore, there’s a lot to keep track of and plenty of details that can go unnoticed. Luckily, the game starts with a single area then progressively grows bigger as you play, allowing you to naturally explore the areas you have access to before the game throws more at you. The world is sizable yet packed with detail, filled with an endless amount of interesting stuff to poke and prod at. While it’s easy to get distracted, the game does have its ways of funneling you in the right direction, be it the clever ways the story moves forward or just the fact every character has a handy to-do list.
Writing-a-reno – If Twin Peaks were more cartoonish, it would be Thimbleweed Park. This game is as bizarre as it is hilarious; from plumbers dressed as pigeons to constantly swearing clowns, you never know who or what you’ll run into next. The dialogue is great, clever and insanely quotable. Everything, everywhere, and everyone is memorable and leaves a lasting impression, which is incredibly important in a game about puzzles and investigation. While comedy permeates every aspect of the game, it still holds its own as a murder-mystery. The strangeness that permeates the game can give off a really creepy vibe when the time’s right. Everyone you come across seems at least a little suspicious, up to and including the playable characters. The twists, turns and surprises are the most memorable parts of the experience. You’re constantly wondering what’s going to happen next, making new guesses as to who’s up to no good. As funny as the game can be, it’s the darkness creeping in the background that really keeps things interesting.
Who needs a mouse? – The entire game is controlled by a cursor; you use it to interact with objects, walk around the world, and select dialogue options. Normally this doesn’t feel ideal with a controller, but there’s a good deal of extra bells and whistles that make it work really well. Dialogue options and command verbs can be selected using the directional pad. Pressing a bumper will move your cursor to the nearest object. Highlighting an object highlights the verb you’d most likely use on it, and pressing X lets, you use that verb over the default “Walk to”. The cursor even has two speeds; the left stick is the more normal speed, while the right stick moves it slower for more precision. This is one of the best cursor-based control schemes I’ve ever used; it keeps the feel of playing a classic PC game while also accounting for the controller’s strengths and weaknesses.
Easy street – Thimbleweed Park has two difficulty modes, casual and hardcore. The major difference is that casual dials back on the puzzles, removing those that are meant to be more strenuous and difficult. While I spent most of my time playing the Hardcore mode, I did play through the early game in casual. The opening segment is turned into a hand-holding tutorial, and some puzzle setups were noticeably missing, but the experience mostly felt intact. It’s a cleaner and more streamlined experience that still leaves the wonderful story and dialogue intact. While hardcore seems to be the intended experience for the game, casual looks to be a great fit for those that you want something a little more laid-back or just don’t want to constantly look up a walkthrough.
Here’s what I didn’t like:
You fight like a cow – For such a dialogue-heavy game, it doesn’t always hit the mark. It feels as though some actors are giving the bare minimum for the performance, and even the main characters have trouble delivering some lines convincingly. When two characters are talking, it comes across more as people reading lines in separate rooms than an actual conversation. Overall the voice over is serviceable, as it still manages to land many of the jokes and key moments, but it does bring down the material a tad.
Thimbleweed Park is so much more than a nostalgic throwback. It’s a distillation of everything that makes point-and-click adventures great, and a modern perfection of a classical type of game design. It’s an absolute must if you are or ever were a fan of the genre. While it may be a bit too niche to bring in new fans, I’d still say it’s worth a recommendation to even the most puzzle-adverse among us.
Score: Must Buy
Thimbleweed Park was developed and published on Xbox One by Terrible Toybox. It was released March 30, 2017, for $19.99. A copy was provided for review purposes.