Buy Thimbleweed Park
Kickstarter has been home to projects by famous game designers who were looking to create spiritual successors to titles that made them famous. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night was going to be Koji Igarashi's answer to recent Castlevania titles. Mighty No. 9 was going to be the next Mega Man from writer Keiji Inafune, and Yooka-Laylee was headed up by a bunch of ex-Rare people and marked the return to a Banjo-Kazooie style of platformer. Whether the result was good or bad, it's becoming clear that people are interested in classic games. The team of Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick also used the Kickstarter platform to give their new game a shot, a title that's a throwback to the adventure game days of the Monkey Island series and Maniac Mansion. Thimbleweed Park is the result, and adventure game fans who have waited for a game that embraces the genre's old style will not be disappointed.
The story is set in the year 1987 and starts off innocently enough. A foreign businessman has come to the sleepy little town of Thimbleweed Park, and it doesn't take long before he's given a cryptic set of instructions to follow. Not knowing what else to do, he follows them to the letter but eventually suffers a killing blow to the head. Less than a day later, two federal agents who barely know one another come to the town to investigate the crime. What seems like a straightforward plot, however, takes many twists and turns as the town's history is uncovered and loads of secrets come to light.
Many adventure games that are considered classics have good stories, and this one is no different. The secrets and intrigue run deep when you find out about the histories of the major characters. You have the expected lot of quirky supporting characters, from the coroner, sheriff, and hotel manager who all look alike to the intrepid newspaper reporter and the groundskeeper who won't stop digging. It is the kind of supporting cast you want from an adventure game, since they're all memorable and their antics are good for a quick chuckle.
Tying all of this together is the odd charm of Thimbleweed itself. On the one hand, it's a tragic place. Those who have lived in towns that are in decline because of their dependence on one industry will see that reflected here, and everyone else's exposure to those situations via other stories can also see those signs. In that sense, it's pretty normal when compared to settings for other games. On the other hand, the signature quirks are accounted for, like the presence of large vacuum tube computers, leaving behind the signature oddness that permeated the memorable games in the genre.
Of course, a game trying to mimic some of the classics would have to bring the humor, and Thimbleweed Park is full of that. Aside from your strange cast of secondary and tertiary characters, there a ton of fourth-wall-breaking comments, and some of the ribs against Sierra On-Line can come off as a tad mean. There are lots of cameos from older adventure game franchises, and some touches are funny simply because you wouldn't believe that it was done in the first place. Putting the entire list of Kickstarter backers into the game's phone book, for example, is an ingenious way to credit them, and it's awesome that they had a segment of those people contribute phone messages or text. Additionally, there's an otherwise-useless side-quest of picking up around 90 specks of dust in the world for no other purpose beyond gaining an achievement.
The core mechanics will be familiar with anyone who's played at least one game in the genre. Though the game is split into chapters, your characters eventually gain the ability to freely roam about the world and pick up just about anything that's not nailed down. Conversations with people come with a bunch of different branches to delve into, and each either ends with a well-timed joke, a new item to gather, or a new clue for the puzzle you're trying to solve. Speaking of which, those who stay away from the genre due to nonsensical puzzle solutions will be relieved to learn that almost all of the conundrums you face have sensible solutions. They still require that you pay attention to everything, and hunting around the environment for interesting objects isn't as crazy as some would fear. Solving puzzles will have a better chance of eliciting cheers rather than sighs of disbelief.
Beyond that, Thimbleweed Park brings back some things that are no longer en vogue for the genre. The first is a list of actions that are available for use at all times. Common verbs and phrases like Open, Look at, Use, and Give are always part of your selection process, instead of being hotspotted. Movement is handled by clicking on the environment, and you can complete some automatic actions with a right-click, so you don't have to use the Look at or Open commands via the list. You have to specify what you want done everywhere else, rather than having the game guess for you.
The second thing is the use of multiple characters, which you'd expect from the people involved with The Cave and Maniac Mansion. You start with only two characters, and you can swap control between both agents. They can pass items to each other once they're in the same room, but otherwise, the mechanic is only useful for saving time traveling between two areas. It isn't long before you take control of a ghost, the cursed Ransome and Delores, the once-heir to the pillow factory. The character-swapping becomes important, since they each have a special action that others can't perform. For example, only Delores can change out tubes, and Ransome can climb high towers. It feels like those aforementioned titles in that you can't simply abandon a character and leave their perspective unseen.
For those familiar with the old LucasArts games, Thimbleweed Park feels like home. The oddball characters, the offbeat humor, and the sensible puzzles: It all feels like a culmination of the genre's strong points all those years ago. It helps that everything is balanced, so none of the elements overpower the other. There are difficult portions of the game, but you feel a real sense of satisfaction once they're solved, and the game does a good job of giving you everything you need so that you can solve everything on your own if you look hard enough.
Understandably, those who are new to the adventure genre can feel intimidated that this follows the old standards so closely. While genre veterans will choose the Hard difficulty, there is an Easy difficulty for everyone else. It doesn't make the game significantly easier, though, as some of the puzzles are still difficult in their own right. However, it does reduce the number of puzzles encountered, and there are a few things that are automatically given to streamline the experience. What it doesn't do, though, is prevent you from picking up things that you ultimately don't need, so you can end chapters with a number of items that are useful in one difficulty but otherwise useless in the easier setting.
In order to find faults with the game, you'll have to start nitpicking. Beyond the fact that you're controlling them, there's no reason to have the characters work with one another. There's no underlying relationship present, nor is there a brief moment where characters agree to help one another out; the exception is the two agents in the middle of the story. There's also no way to skip the dialogue, so if you've seen a conversation before, you'll have to let it replay in its entirety before moving on. That becomes a little bothersome when you discover that some characters have the exact same responses to the same questions.
Aside from the gameplay, the graphics further show the game's adherence to the classics. What you have is a near-pixel-perfect representation of the VGA art style utilized in the classic LucasArts games. The pixels are rather large, and even though you have a few visual tricks in the engine now, this looks like an upgraded game using the SCUMM engine. Character models follow the Maniac Mansion style with large heads and otherwise normally proportioned bodies, and the animations are just as crudely charming as before. If you're not a fan of this style, you'll be out of luck since there are no options to change the resolution or add filters to smooth things out.
The sound is the only place where the game deviates to offer something more modern, but it sounds so good that few will mind. The soundtrack is rather rich and underscores the Twin Peaks/The X-Files vibe. It's moody but never overbearingly so, and the presence of the radio in most places means that you can break out of that vibe voluntarily with radio rock that appropriately sounds like it could be a cover of a 1987 track. Elsewhere, the game sports a ton of voices, and while this seems mostly like a cast of newcomers to voice acting, their performances are all well done.
Thimbleweed Park is the right kind of throwback and a hell of an adventure game. It adheres to all of the old ideals that defined adventure games while still adding new things to accommodate new players or veterans who haven't reacclimated themselves to that old style. The puzzles can be intimidating, but they make sense, even if you're tempted to use a walkthrough to solve the more difficult ones. It sticks to a classic aesthetic, but it also knows how to deliver a compelling story to bring it all together. Time will tell if adventure game fans can call this a classic, but right now, Thimbleweed Park is certainly worth playing.
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