Thimbleweed Park Review (PC)
What if you found a long-forgotten late-’80s adventure game in pristine condition hidden away in a dusty old desk drawer? That's the premise upon which Thimbleweed Park was Kickstarted back in 2014, and eager backers nearly doubled the original $350,000 goal. With LucasArts (then Lucasfilm Games) alums and Maniac Mansion creators Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick at the helm and a retro pixelated design, the project looked like a point-and-click fan’s dream come true. Over two years later, Thimbleweed Park has more than made good on its promise, bringing the joys of pointing, clicking, and verb usage to the modern era.
It’s 1987, and the sleepy town of Thimbleweed Park is plagued by a recent series of mysteries—the latest of which is the unidentified dead body that just showed up beneath a bridge. Federal agents Ray and Reyes are assigned to the case, infusing the Twin Peaks vibe with a hearty dose of X-Files. Both agents have their own problems to worry about and aren’t too keen on working together. Elsewhere in town, a formerly famous clown hangs out at the abandoned circus that was once his stage, and a fledgling game designer deals with the death of her uncle (not to be confused with the first corpse).
Those are just a few of the characters you’ll control during your time in Thimbleweed Park. Some parts of the story limit your interaction, but for a large chunk of the game, you can alternate between them at will. It’s reminiscent of Maniac Mansion’s huge cast of characters with their own abilities and backstories, which is not surprising given the source. In fact, the entire game is loaded with subtle and not-so-subtle references to the 1987 game for which the SCUMM engine was invented. The art style and sound design, too, are inspired by Mansion and other old-school adventure games. It might seem like Thimbleweed is resting on nostalgia, but there’s clearly a lot of love in every detail, right down to the random stray pixels on the ground.
Your enjoyment of Thimbleweed Park will depend largely on your patience for sometimes-obscure puzzles, especially if playing in hard mode, which offers no hints or help. Forgetting to look at the right object might set you back a couple of hours as you helplessly switch between characters and wander all over town wondering what you missed. If you’d rather just enjoy the story without dealing with that, casual mode takes out some of the tougher parts and offers a tutorial. There’s no in between “normal” mode. As an experienced player, I found hard mode about on par with what I’d expected. You won’t run into any dead ends, as you would (often without knowing) back in the late ‘80s, so it’s not unfairly difficult; however, you should be prepared to spend some time scrolling the cursor over every inch of the screen to find something you’ve missed.
The biggest missed opportunity is not having all these great characters interact with each other more. I’d love to see bad cop Ray shoot the breeze with foul-mouthed Ransome the clown, or Reyes discuss video games with Delores. They can give each other objects, but aside from that and a few choice cutscenes, that’s the extent of their interaction. It’s not a huge thing, but it becomes glaring when you have four characters standing in the same place and none of them are acknowledging the others.
Thimbleweed Park is built on a foundation of nostalgia and reinforced with pop culture references, but it's the clever puzzles, funny characters, and stellar design that hold it all together. It reminds us what's great about classic point-and-click adventures while showing that there's still a place for the genre in modern gaming. Lucasfilm Games and its beloved IP may be lost to us, but the creative forces behind those classics still know what it takes to make a compelling, funny, clever adventure.
This review is based on a download of Thimbleweed Park provided by the publisher for PC.