Old Dog, New Tricks – Thimbleweed Park Review

In the mid-1990s, like you, I experimented with point-and-click adventure games. They came into existence right when stories in games began to mature, but budgets for indie games hadn’t. These were the kinds of games my parents bought to keep me occupied for days at a time over the summer.

My first was “The Curse of Monkey Island,” but before that, I’d cut my gaming teeth on strategy games and shooters. So to me, being handed a text-based adventure seemed like the video game equivalent of socks, and it was in the “wear them once” spirit that I fired it up. Two things happened: I truly struggled with a game for the first time, and I realized that video games could have personality.

I was hooked.

I’ve tried a few other text-based and point-and-click adventures since, and while they were fun in their own right, none captured me like that series. For nearly two decades, I thought those kinds of games were behind me. The studio was refocused to licensed games, its designers moved on, and the legend of Monkey Island was all but relegated to history. Then, along comes Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick’s “Thimbleweed Park.”

The story begins with a murder, and you control the two chief investigators – both of which are conspicuously shrouded in mystery. On top of that, the town of Thimbleweed Park is reminiscent of a shadowy Twin Peaks or Cabot Cove, where any normal person would assume these kinds of grisly murders happen all the time.

Over time, you’ll uncover the comically tragic stories of three more playable characters, whose lives are brought together by a visitor’s murder. Each has a unique personality, ranging from a chipper, nerdy, aspiring game designer to a sardonic, has-been insult comic. You’ll get to know each individually, as the game allows you to switch between them at-will.

This feature is a fun way to solve puzzles – using their size, knowledge, or the fact that they’re not trapped in a sewer to your advantage. The most difficult part of point-and-click adventure games is that you’re at the mercy of the game designer when it comes to advancing through each puzzle. It’s easy (in other games) to get stuck in a location without the item you need, or not knowing where or what to do next. Fortunately, Thimbleweed Park was designed by experts who assuage those fears almost immediately in the first of many breaches of the fourth wall.

These moments of self-awareness give the game a certain charm that is inextricably tied to LucasArts (and formerly LucasArts) games, and in a game driven by text, makes it worth playing.

The puzzles feel more fluid since Monkey Island and the ability to switch characters, and (at the very least) explore the map quicker was a huge quality-of-life change. Adventuring with Guybrush Threepwood felt cumbersome, and I found myself trying to pick up every single thing in every single screen so that I wouldn’t have to come back and find pieces later. Thimbleweed Park’s freedom of movement kept the animations charming, rather than annoying.

Artistically, Thimbleweed Park delivered on several levels. Although you can’t gush over gorgeous landscapes due to the constraints of 16-bit animation, it is beautifully executed for the form, and fit the 1987 setting for the game. Maybe it’s nostalgia, but I love pixelated games, and its creators share my enthusiasm,

“We like big pixels. Huge ones. Pixels that have their own Zip Codes. Pixels a family of six could live inside of and still have room for Uncle Pete when he drops in unexpectedly on his way to the coast.

We had a lot of fun building Maniac Mansion, there was a charm and simplicity to the art that let the game design shine and your imagination run wild.

We want Thimbleweed Park to be like an undiscovered classic LucasArts’ adventure game you’d never played before. A game discovered in a dusty old desk that puts a smile on your face and sends a wave of nostalgia through you in the same way it does for us.”

For “an undiscovered classic LucasArts’ adventure game,” they nailed it. This game scratched an itch I thought I’d have to live with forever, and based on the success of the Kickstarter and (hopefully) the game itself, will keep the point-and-click adventure genre alive.

Thimbleweed Park is available for:

Mac • Windows • Linux • Xbox One• PS4 • iOS • Switch