Thimbleweed Park Review
The initial review of this game had two inaccuracies, one about an element of the game needing to be patched, and one about the dialogue being unskippable. These have since been altered for accuracy.
Release Date: March 30, 2017
Developer: Terrible Toybox
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux, Xbox One, IOS, Android
In 1987, Lucasfilm Games released a game that would change the adventure-gaming world forever: Maniac Mansion. Maniac Mansion was a graphical adventure game, not rare for it's time period, but instead of a text parser, used a graphical interface where players made sentences by combining a verb menu with various objects onscreen. It was also rare for its day in another way: You had to actively try to lose the game or die, a direct antithesis to most games of the era, where if you moved the wrong way down the right street, you would wind up needing a game restore. The parser they used, SCUMM (short for "Script Creator Utility for Maniac Mansion) allowed the team of Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick to create even more classic adventures over the years, including beloved games like Day of the Tentacle and the Monkey Island series.
With the resurgence of many of those franchises, as well as Tim Schaefer trying to relive the days when he did something other than design failed business plans and games that sound better on paper, Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick reunited again to bring us a perfectly encapsulated blast of old-school gaming, a pixelated wedge of surreality that brings back the days when puzzles were kind of obtuse and games were dialogue-heavy, and none of that was in any way a bad thing.
In Thimbleweed Park, you switch between a number of characters in an effort to solve a murder in the small town of Thimbleweed Park. Using a command list of nine verbs and items from your inventory, you solve puzzles and talk to the eccentric inhabitants of the town-- a town run on tubes where the mayor, sheriff, and M.E. might all be the same person with different verbal tics, lorded over by the godlike "Chuck," who may or may not actually be dead. This is not a spoiler, it's pretty clear early on with a city seal that says "his mind lives on" with a picture of a brain under a city. Each character has their own unique ability as well, encouraging the player to switch between various inhabitants of the town in your efforts to solve the murder.
The game essentially lives and dies by it's roots, and this is both a good and a bad thing. First, the good: The writing, old-style nine verb interface, and graphics are great. It's simple in the way the best '80s and '90s adventure games were, has a graphical interface for inventory items so that you know what you're doing, and is recently updated so you have a quick movement system. It runs well on modern resolutions, has the off-kilter atmosphere of something like Twin Peaks or Monkey Island, and it's a lot of fun to wander around the town at night. In other words, it does exactly as it's supposed to. It's an excellent experience, and kind of delightful.
But with it comes the very reason adventure games sorta died in the first place: obtuse puzzles, repetitive dialogue segments, and a movement system that seemed rather slow at first blush. It's difficult to say how much of this is actually the point, especially on higher difficulties, where you have to make printer ink by burning logs in a fireplace, and that's one of the least obtuse puzzles. There are moments where there's no real direction, no place to go, just an impenetrable wall that requires one thing to knock a chink in it. There are moments where the dialogue starts to drag, like the numerous trips to the town hall to talk to the wacky officials who all might be one guy, scenes that got so grating I had to turn the voices off, and endless conversations that aren't immediately skippable through. Adding to this, while the inventory and verb menu are a great throwback, the verb menu being necessary to combine items is most definitely not.
In the end, this game will live and die on one question: How much do you miss the older style of adventure games? If the answer is "a lot," then Thimbleweed Park is the best of the bunch. If the answer is "no, and I wish they stayed dead," then this game is going to drive you nuts very quickly, because it is the ideal of that. All in all, though, it's a fun experience for what it is, and if that's your sort of thing, then this is well worth it.
- - Perfectly captures the feel of a '90s adventure classic
- - Great, off-kilter atmosphere
- - Excellent writing and art direction
- - Captures all the flaws of a '90s adventure classic
- - Some tedious cutscenes when backtracking
- - Puzzle logic that comes from a '90s adventure classic
A review copy of this game was provided by Terrible Toybox