Growing up in the 90’s I was lucky to have both console games and computer games to mess around on. Not many people I know got to experience the difference between both worlds, and it was amazing to see how PC and Console handled their games. One of the most unique types of games to come out of the PC era where of course adventure games, and while you had a few on console, being able to play with a mouse really mad a difference in both speed and overall enjoyment over the slow d-pad. So when Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick of the famed LucasArts & Humongous Games announced that they would be going back to the roots of adventure games with Thimbleweed Park, there was no way I would let myself miss out on this game. The real question is did this game recapture that feeling of the past games or did it end falling flat, this is what this review is meant to provide. With minimal spoilers of course.
If you played any of the LucasArts games you would be familiar with the action verb system. This became the basis of the S.C.U.M.M. engine for adventure games in the past. Although, it was mainly based on the Maniac Mansion games, which is what the last two M’s in SCUMM stand for. They are considered the minimum amount of actions a character in a game could use to accomplish any feat in a game. Those 9 words are as follows: Open, Pick Up, Push, Close, Look At, Pull, Give, Talk To, Use. Seeing as how Thimbleweed Park is a spiritual successor to Maniac Mansion, it’s great to see them included.
When you start the game it gives you an option to select a difficulty. Which is something adventure most adventure games of the past never had. There’s two modes of play, ‘Casual Mode’, which simplifies puzzles so you don’t have to complete multiple parts of a puzzle or combine so many items to get to a solution, or ‘Hard Mode’, which is remains true to the original style of adventure games. The introduction of a casual mode is a nice addition for people who have never played adventure games before and actually gives some replay value if you want to see the differences between each mode.
The game itself revolves around a murder in the mysterious town of Thimbleweed Park. A town that was once a capital of industry thanks to the local PillowTron factory, led by the genius inventor and lover of pillows, Chuck Edmond. However due to an incident that caused the factory to burn down, the town has since ended up going into economic decline. With local businesses closing and people moving away. It has become a very tight nit and gossipy community. Which seemed to not bat an eye at the recent murder down by the outskirts of town, that is, until two federal agents show up to investigate.
You play as both Agent Ray, a senior female agent with a sarcastic wit and devil may care attitude, and Junior Agent Reyes, a young man who is very carefree, and helpful yet serious attitude. They both seem to have some ulterior motives for coming to Thimbleweed all which come clear as you progress through the game. They’re not the only characters you can control, as your investiagtion continues into the town you learn of two other individuals who seem to have ties to the murder at hand. A down on his luck Clown who was cursed, and the Niece of the recently deceased PillowTron president.
While the game starts out slow introducing you to various controls and story of the game. You will soon have to learn how to manage multiple characters to progress through the game. which is one of the issues the game has. Similar in style of Maniac Mansion, and Day of the Tentacle, you need to use certain characters to go into certain locations, and do certain actions. While this isn’t the issue
and is actually a great puzzle mechanic, it is inventory management that is the issue. Which causes you to constantly have to give and trade items, as well as keep track of which characters have which item.
This limitation of movement, actions, and inventory leads to some situations where you can become stuck unless you use specific item in a specific place. Since you have to make sure certain characters have “x” item to solve “y” puzzle, and it while it should make sense, it can really leave you feeling stuck. This is especially true for when you are playing on ‘Hard Mode’.
However, this doesn’t mean it detracts from the story of the game. While the story is about a murder of a random stranger, which is very serious overtone, the game doesn’t take itself too seriously and it creates an atmosphere of mystery and humor all at the same time. It makes you want to achieve more in the game to get more of it, and the voiced lines and character personalities really add to the charm of the game. One of the nice things about Thimbleweed is how the developers at Terrible Toybox really went to meld together the soundtrack and the art style to give you that classic windows-esque VGA graphics style that was reminiscent of the earlier adventure games.
One of the few complaints I have about the game, and what I think may be its biggest flaw, is the limited interaction between the playable characters. While there are a few “cutscene” interactions between certain characters, they start to get less and less and it becomes very limited to the point where it seems unrealistic. It ends up with all the characters sort of working together with no real motive to do so, and they are sort of just pushed together.
It also doesn’t help that When you find a new character to play with the introductory conversation is usually negative or neutral. Shortly after you finish that, you can end up trading items with the same character you just had that conversation with and there’s no real motive for them to be doing so. It just leaves a gap in the narrative that could have added to the game, or at least have been flushed out to add more story to the game.
The game also handles the story in chapters, which causes some of the transitions to be abrupt. Which is jarring when you solve a puzzle and then are hit with a black screen and the next chapter logo. While it helps with the digestion of the story I feel it could have been handled better, or at least transitioned in a different way. Especially in the middle of the game when you are basically given a chance to solve things that effect different chapters. You can end up going from 1 chapter to the next really quickly.
Another flaw that has plagued adventure games of the past is of course ‘pixel hunting’. While Thimbleweed Park does a great job to try and avoid this with the way the designed their inventory items and overall world. There are a few instances where you can get stuck having to search for something that is hidden pretty much in plain sight. While this might just be an issue I had playing the game and might not effect other players as much, I just wanted to bring it up.
Overall, Thimbleweed park is an adventure game that manages to capture the feeling of old adventure games, while not taking itself to seriously. It isn’t afraid to make jokes at its own expense nor break the fourth wall from time to time. It really just gives you a love letter to the genre. Making references to classic games from Sierra and LucasArts, and was made for those who enjoyed those games. It’s a game that gives you something to laugh at or smile about, even if it can be a bit frustrating at times with the few flaws it has.
Review Disclosure: I am a backer of Thimbleweed Park on Kickstarter. Thimbleweed Park was reviewed using a pre-release Steam key provided by Terrible Toybox.