For those who pine for the days of yore when text adventures became sarcastically self-aware and began incorporating images and pixelated sprites, then yearn no longer. Thimbleweed Park is a Kickstarter-funded point-and-click adventure from dynamic duo Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick, who among other accolades are the masterminds behind the 1990 classic The Secret of Monkey Island. With a pixelated art style that harkens back to that golden era and a sense of humour that keeps its tongue firmly in its cheek, Thimbleweed Park is an enjoyable romp and a gem for fans of the genre.
The references are strong with this one
Thimbleweed Park is a tiny town experiencing the sharp tail-end of a short-lived economic boom. Many have deserted the area, but a hopeful few remain staunch and continue to cling to the remains of a once prosperous town. The game opens with a murder on the outskirts of this sad little community, and after a short prologue you take control of two special agents tasked with investigating the incident. What begins as a simple investigation into a murder quickly evolves into something entirely different, where the motives of both the townsfolk and the investigators will be called into question. Who is the dead man and at whose hands did he meet his undignified fate? Who are the people dressed as pigeons who tend to paranormal plumbing and electrical problems? Why is the coroner masquerading as both the sheriff and a hotel concierge? With the help of five playable characters it’s up to you to point and click your way to the truth and uncover the secrets of this down-and-out town.
Thimbleweed Park’s many mysteries successfully drive the game, and the quirky characters you meet and play as also keep the fires of intrigue stoked. There’s Ransome the Clown, a…clown…who once made a living by mercilessly insulting his audience but has been cursed by a gypsy to be never able to remove his makeup. There’s Dolores, estranged niece of the genius whose technological wizardry is at the heart of the town’s rapid success and subsequent failure. There’s also the aforementioned sheriff (who bears uncanny resemblance to both the coroner and hotel concierge), who seems hell-bent on you not doing your job. Some characters are more annoying than interesting (the sheriff barely passed muster in my opinion), but for every one you find that grates on your nerves you’ll find three that are genuinely engaging.
The narrative has a certain promise, and the journey itself is a fun one, but the ending unfortunately leaves far too many loose ends. Each of the five characters has their own story threads to be resolved, but the ending to the main story feels a little tacked on. The game’s insistence on fourth wall-breaking humour that runs the gamut between painfully laboured and mildly interesting doesn’t really help either. This is reflected in its conclusion, which hurtles towards the bizarre and flies away on a gust of meta, and in the process ignores some of its finer mysteries. While people familiar with the wry, sardonic humour of games like Monkey Island, Zork and Broken Age will probably chuckle here and there, it comes off as feeling ever so slightly…contrived. It’s almost like the game is more intent on flailing its arms about wildly and telling you that it knows it’s a game, rather than getting on with the business of…being a game. The style does eventually grow on you, but I could never shake the feeling the game was attempting to be the equivalent of the extroverted cool kid in the class who has heaps of Tazos™ and calls the teacher by their first name.
Gameplay-wise it’s point and click as you’ve known and loved for 30-odd years, with a world densely packed with clever item-based puzzling. Almost as numerous as the items you can pick up and interact with are the amount of red herrings you’ll encounter. Will this Betamax tape ever prove useful? Does this can of non-copyright infringing Poopsi™ serve an important purpose? Surely the man-eating plant on the
Can’t pull cones
The game knows it’s a game!
counter of the local servo has secrets to tell. With the volume of items you eventually collect, it’s up to you to decide what’s likely to work with what, and the game has an intelligently consistent vein of logic that runs through it. Puzzles can be incredibly devious and multi-faceted, and I’m not ashamed to say I entered into a mini-psychosis as I contemplated exactly how I was going to obtain that all important shiny nickel to put in the photocopier or appease the phantom of the elevator with ice cream cake. In a small amount of minutes the game can go from making you feel incredibly smart to incredibly stupid, and it’s kind of glorious. There were two puzzles that pushed the limits of what I consider to be fair in terms of logic, but in general, if you can’t figure a puzzle out it’s on you.
The style does eventually grow on you, but I could never shake the feeling the game was attempting to be the equivalent of the extroverted cool kid in the class who has heaps of Tazos™ and calls the teacher by their first name.
If you recognise this your neckbeard is long and mighty
Despite some slight missteps in the humour and narrative department, Thimbleweed Park is a successful point-and-click adventure that reverently tips its neckbeard to the classics of yesteryear. If you’re looking for a challenging retro adventure whose clever puzzles will keep you up at night then look no further.