Right from the beginning it’s clear that something weird is going on in Thimbleweed Park. The small town is hit by a murder and a body is dumped in a river, yet the residents of Thimbleweed Park don’t seem overly concerned about it, including the local Sheriff. The two federal agents who come upon the scene want to solve the crime but are also pursuing other, more secretive goals in the city. On top of that, there is clearly some kind of behind the scenes conspiracy working to stop the agents from completing their investigation. Thus begins a modern yet classical adventure game from Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick of Maniac Mansion and The Secret of Monkey Island fame.
Thimbleweed Park offers all of the same ideas of classic adventure games in the vein of Monkey Island. A decent portion of the screen is taken up with commands and your inventory. The game tasks you with exploring the environment and interacting with it using combinations of items and these simple commands, such as “Use balloon animal with corpse.” While it feels and plays like a classic adventure title, the game is very self aware, cracking jokes and offering criticism of the adventure game genre, even directly calling out rival Sierra Online at times.
The premise of the game seems simple at the outset: find out who committed the murder and arrest him. As the game opens up, you start to see more of the oddities of this seemingly simple town. The town is dominated by Pillowtronics, a company that made its name making pillows but then at some point shifted to high-end computers. The founder, Chuck, also just recently passed away and his partner went missing. In other words there is a lot more going on in Thimbleweed Park than anyone expects.
The game is told from multiple perspectives. Right from the beginning you can take control of either Agent Ray or Agent Reyes. The two have the same agenda: arrest the bad guy, but they will have to work together to catch him. Eventually you will be introduced to the other main characters: Ransome, an insult comic clown who has been cursed to never remove his makeup, Delores, the niece of Chuck who has returned to Thimbleweed Park for the reading of Chuck’s will and Franklin, Delores’ father and Chuck’s business partner who went missing and suddenly finds himself in surprising circumstances.
Controlling five different characters adds a nice layer of puzzle solving to the game above your traditional point and click game. Sometimes a specific character has to be the one to do something or an item is only obtainable by one person who then has to give it to another character. Moreover it is helpful should you get stuck on a particular puzzle, like I did at times. Each character besides the agents has their own motivations and agendas so you can switch to them and play out more of their own story in which a solution to your original problem may become clear. This happened to me on more than one occasion.
From start to finish, Thimbleweed Park is entertaining in multiple ways. The point and click puzzles are spot on and while sometimes they are maybe a little out there, the vast majority of the time figuring out the puzzles is quite rewarding. In a general sense the game feels like a comedy with plenty of quips and observations that often brought a chuckle out of me. The voice acting is well done for the most part, although sometimes it does come across a little wooden. Meanwhile the overall mystery of the game is intriguing. Early on you are shown that the character’s actions are being watched and there is a constant feeling that something nefarious is going on in the town. No spoilers here but I will say that the payoff for this mystery is fantastic.
An interesting aspect of the game is that right at the outset it asks you whether you want to play on Casual or Hardcore. Yep, difficulty levels in an adventure game. Casual is described as more straightforward and faster experience. That means some puzzles are left out or skipped over in favor of moving the story along while Hardcore has everything the game has to offer. Playing it first on Casual I could definitely see areas where puzzles were streamlined or plainly skipped, leaving some red herrings that would be used in actual puzzles in Hardcore mode. Going back and playing through on Hardcore shows just how complicated the puzzles can be and is either a great experience for classic adventure game fans or a nice reason to go back for a second playthrough if you elect to play on Casual.
I think Thimbleweed Park achieves exactly what they set out to create. It feels just like the adventure games of old, in both good and bad, depending on how you look at it. Unlike some modern adventure games or HD remakes, there is no hand holding or “hint system” in place here. You are left to figure everything out on your own by clicking on everything and trying everything in your inventory. I appreciate that kind of gameplay and found it quite pleasant. However what I will ultimately take away from Thimbleweed Park is the story and characters, most specifically the brilliant reveal of the mystery and how everything comes together in the end. That’s the stuff that will stay with me for awhile.
SCORE: 9.0 out of 10
A copy of Thimbleweed Park was provided for review