Lucasarts adventure games were what I cut my gaming teeth on back in the early and mid-90s. The classic 2D point and click genre has made a very welcomed resurgence in the last several years thanks to developers like Wadjet Eye Games, but now we have two legends in the business, Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick, teaming up for Thimbleweed Park, a Kickstarted adventure. Released just a few days ago, Thimbleweed Park is very reminiscent of those old SCUMM engine classics. Strong characters, a compelling story, great artwork, excellent writing, tough but rewarding puzzles, and lots of humor are all a part of the experience.
With a Casual and Hard mode, players can balance how tough they want their puzzles to be, but, let’s be honest, the only way to really play is on Hard (and rely on a walkthrough when you really need it). Gameplay is classically old school, with your action buttons in the lower left (Open, Give, Push, Talk To, Look At, etc), inventory next to it on the right, and the menu button in the top right corner. The Menu button is not traditional, but it’s necessary in Thimbleweed Park because most of the time you can switch between characters with a click. As you get several hours into the game, you will at a point have five playable characters that you can switch between.
Switching between playable characters adds layers of complexity and possibility to the adventure. Most Lucasarts games did not have this element to them, but being able to swap inventory items, interact with the other characters you’re not controlling at the moment, and solve puzzles together is pretty awesome. Sometimes this gets a little “broken” in that you cannot select to Talk To one of your characters when they’re next to you, or they otherwise don’t always “recognize” or “see each other” on screen at the same time, but this is an anomaly inherent to the game design which isn’t a big deal. Besides, the game has a lot of fourth-wall breaking humor.
Speaking of humor, Thimbleweed Park carries it in spades. Some of this humor is visual, with the art and animations, most of it is done in dialog though, between characters or between the character and the player. Ransome the Clown for example, has a problem with bad language. His dialog has a lot of literal ‘beeps’ in it to mute out his curse words. This was used wisely though, and when Ransome says a curse word is often kind of funny, or at least smirk-worthy. Had that been overdone, well, it would have become quite a nuisance, but fortunately it doesn’t get that far. Similarly, the lead protagonist detective (whose name totally escapes me right now) has a pretty grating voice, yet it’s fitting for her character’s personality and it never gets too annoying.
If it’s already evident, the overall takeaway from this article is that if you like the genre, you’re going to like Thimbleweed Park a lot. The story revolves around the strange town of Thimbleweed Park and the eighty people that live there. Two federal agents, or alleged federal agents perhaps, are brought into this tiny town to investigate the murder of an out-of-towner. The town only populates eighty, but they’re all a bit (ok, a lot in some cases) crazy, and most of the businesses are closed. You also have an old Pillow Factory that was the heart of the town, and it was burned down and recently its founder died. A pair of adult handy-women who go around fixing plumbing, electrical, and other issues wear full-size bird costumes and constantly talk about the ‘signals’ that are effecting everyone’s behavior. Ransome the Clown lives at an abandoned circus and is cursed by a local occultist such that his make-up can never come off. The sheriff is also the coroner and both have weird speech habits like saying “a-reno” after the end of some words. The whole town brims with creative goofiness and this is a pervasive quality that goes into the art, dialog, humor, and some of the puzzles as well.
Puzzle design is one of the pillars of a great adventure game in addition to story and characters. Fortunately, yet not surprisingly given who the developers are and the time they have had to craft the game, Thimbleweed Park is loaded with strong puzzles. Some of these are obtuse and tough, that’s pretty much to be expected, especially when you have multiple characters to control and an increasingly large playable area. I liked that a ‘to do’ list was included with each character — a running tab of all of the things that you need to accomplish with each character. It doesn’t get very specific of course, which is a good thing, but it does at least give you direction on what it is you’re trying to achieve with any one character at a time. This is helpful, but I have no shame in admitting at times I resorted to the walkthrough I was provided as part of the review process. This would be something I would resort to only after due diligence and only a tidbit at a time. Anyway, I didn’t have to lean on this much because puzzle design is well done and largely intuitive.
Thimbleweed Park is one of those games that speaks to those people who enjoy the genre, and it’s certainly good enough that it will hopefully attract newcomers as well. It’s fan service and an all new exciting game at the same time. Hopefully this is the first of more from Terrible Toybox; regardless, this is a gem and a must-have for anyone that likes games that are story, character, and puzzle-driven adventures.