Thimbleweed Park is the long awaited, Kickstarter-funded adventure game from Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick, the team behind Maniac Mansion and the ever-popular Monkey Island. Released by Terrible Toybox, Thimbleweed Park is a murder mystery that brings the classic weirdness of old school LucasArts games alongside a unique atmosphere all its own.
The plot of Thimbleweed Park is by far its strongest suit. While the game starts out as a basic murder mystery, it soon branches out into some pretty unusual directions. The two initial player characters, Agent Ray and Agent Reyes are both purportedly sent by government agencies to investigate the murder, but you know right off the bat that both are there with ulterior motives. Unfortunately, you don’t get to immediately find out what those motives are, as you have to wait for the plot to unravel first. The game weaves in flashbacks during the first half to introduce you to the three other player characters, and these all serve to flesh out the story of the town itself. While saying too much about the plot would give it away, it becomes quickly apparent that the murder is neither the weirdest nor the most important thing happening in Thimbleweed Park. The way the game ends can leave several minor plot points unresolved, which ultimately doesn't matter to the ending, but the lack of a traditional answer to some of the mysteries is slightly frustrating.
The characters are an interesting and diverse bunch. There are five protagonists, Agent Ray of an unidentified government agency, Agent Reyes of a different unidentified government agency, Delores the granddaughter of the town hero and family black sheep who left to go make video games, her father Franklin and Ransome a cursed clown who can never take his makeup off and is basically the human version of Triumph the Insult Comic dog. Agent Ray is a tough as nails officer whose no-nonsense persona never falters and whose objectives are never far from the forefront of her motivation. With a monotone delivery that would make Daria proud, Ray serves to contrast the less strict and more personable Agent Reyes. In a game of good cop/bad cop, Reyes would always be the good. However, his approachable manner matches well with his determination and focus on achieving his true objectives. Unfortunately, in contrast to Delores and Ransome, Ray and Reyes both lack the depth of backstory to make their stories more detailed and well-rounded.
Delores was by far my favorite character. A member of the Edmund family, her Uncle Chuck built the salvation of the town, the Pillowtronics factory, which he ran with his brother Franklin. Delores only other family member is her money obsessed sister, who Agent Reyes mistakes for a hooker the first time he comes across her. Striking out from Pillowtronics, Delores’ flashback deals with her quest to leave Thimbleweed Park and go to work for an adventure game developer, which is a heavy-handed parody of Lucas Arts. Resourceful and determined, Delores is intelligent and intimately tied to the town’s backstory. Another key part of the backstory is Ransome the clown, who swears so frequently that half of his dialogue is *beep*. A washed up and cursed former circus clown whose entire act hinged on insulting the audience, Ransome’s flashback deals with how exactly he was cursed, to no one’s surprise. While the constant insults can get grating after a while, Ransome is one of the few laugh out loud funny characters in the game and his character does grow on you by the end. The other player character is Franklin, Delores’ well-meaning father who tried to convince his brother to revive the flagging pillow factory by switching to making stuffed toys, including what would have been a multi-million dollar deal for Ransome insult dolls. Franklin is a caring soul who unfortunately lacks the backbone needed to stand up to either his brother or anyone else.
The side characters in the game are a good variety. From the sheriff who can’t stop saying “a-reno” at the end of every line to the Pigeon Brothers sisters who run a plumbing and paranormal service to Madame Morena, the vindictive gypsy who cursed Ransome in the first place, the town is most definitely an interesting place to live. The mix of bizarre characters is very reminiscent of Twin Peaks, which is plainly the inspiration for many aspects of the game and is referenced several times.
In addition to Twin Peaks, the entire game is chock full of pop culture references to 1987, the year the game takes place, as well as more references to LucasArts games than you can shake a stick at. The dialogue is snappy and well written, but the game overall lacks much of the laugh out loud humor that made Monkey Island and Maniac Mansion so hilarious. While there are many funny references and lines, it’s a much more subdued tone.
The traditional pixel art for the game is incredibly well done, and purposefully emulates the style of older point and click adventure games as opposed to other, more modern games which strive to have as much detail as possible. The color palette has a lot of blues and grays, and even the brighter areas of the game, such as the circus and Ransome’s shockingly red hair, are in subdued shades. The backgrounds are quite detailed, and my favorite by far was the vista outside of town which gives a view of the surrounding area. Other interesting locations include the Edmund Mansion mansion where Delores lives and the hotel where the Agents are staying, along with a plethora of fans for ThimbleCon 87.
The sound design of the game is interesting, but for the most part understated. There is background music, which is well done and nicely composed, but it’s rarely noticeable. What really makes an impression are the sound effects, like Ransome’s squeaky shoes and the hiss of the grill in the town’s disgusting diner. The sound effects supplement the scenes given that the background art isn’t chock full of details, and they really serve to bring the whole town to life… much as it were, given that half the town is closed down by the time you first arrive.
The gameplay is really the biggest weak spot here. In keeping with the old style of point and click adventure games, the developers have kept some of those frustrations as well. In order to interact with anything beyond the two expected actions, you have to click on the interaction you wish to do ie. Push, Pull, Give, etc. in the bottom left hand of the screen. Other things like doors require two-step activation, you have to walk to them and then left click to open them, as opposed to the characters walking through and opening the doors automatically, which gets tedious very fast. In order to walk anywhere, you left click on the edge of the screen and hold it until the character gets where you want them to go. Again, while this isn’t a bad mechanic, it gets tedious when you have to spend the first half of the game walking up and down the streets and being unable to skip ahead. The game does eventually give you a map when you can branch out and explore the county, but that doesn’t ease the frustration from the first half of the game. It’s also particularly tedious when you need more than one character in a certain place and you are forced to manually walk both of them there. I understand the need to separate the characters to do things as that’s one of the game’s more interesting mechanics, but having to walk both Ray and Reyes halfway across town to get to the Sheriff’s office was frustrating.
The rest of the mechanics are fairly standard for point and click adventure games. Click on a spot to walk there, hover over something to see if you can interact with it and left or right click. For any more detailed interactions, click the desired action from the bottom of the screen. Each of the characters also has an inventory available which is shown on the bottom right-hand side. Items can be exchanged through inventories by selecting the Give action and having characters share amongst themselves. However, there are a few items that are character specific. Hovering over the character icon in the top right of the screen will give you the option to either switch your player character or click to get to the menu.
The game has two different difficulty modes, Casual and Hard. Even Casual mode has its challenges, and neither contains any overly difficult puzzles. On the other hand, neither do they contain any hint buttons. The game is meant to be played multiple times and seems designed to be played on Casual first and then on Hard, but this is definitely not a requirement as both choices are available from the start. However, once chosen, your game mode cannot be changed without restarting.
Overall, Thimbleweed Park is a fun adventure game. Definitely a must-play for any fans of Gilbert and Winnick’s older works, or for anyone looking to indulge in some 1987-era nostalgia. The flaws in the gameplay are not game breaking, and the intrigue of the plot and clever dialogue are more than enough to make up for it. For anyone looking to get into a good, weird mystery, particularly before the new season of Twin Peaks comes out later this year, Thimbleweed Park will hit the spot.
Thimbleweed Park was reviewed on PC via Steam using a copy provided by the developers. It is also available DRM-Free via GOG (Affiliate).
Thimbleweed Park provides a very intriguing, out of the box story and well thought out characters, but the determination to adhere to retro adventure game mechanics can be a bit of a hindrance.(Review Policy)
- Great Story
- Logical Puzles
- Retro Styled Pixel Art
- Tedious Game Mechanics
- Lack of a Hint System