PC (reviewed)/Mac/Xbox One - Terrible Toybox - £14.99

Adventure games come in two flavours: old school point and click (Monkey Island, Sam and Max, Day of the Tentacle), and newer, more cinematic narrative-based games like The Walking Dead, or A Wolf Among Us. Thimbleweed Park is firmly in the former category: a pixelated, back to its roots game that doesn’t so much reference the past glories of the genre as climb inside its twitching carcass and wiggle about like a dancing dragon on Chinese New Year.

There’s a reason for this. The game is the product of Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick, two veterans of the industry who cut their teeth creating timeless adventure games in the glory days of LucasArts. Games like Maniac Mansion and Monkey Island are, to many, the pinnacle of classic point and click titles, and it’s no accident that Gilbert and Winnick were heavily involved in both of these, as well as many others. 

Despite the decline in popularity of the genre, there’s obviously still an appetite out there, as Thimbleweed Park’s 15,000 plus Kickstarter backers can attest. So, will they be happy? You betcha.

The game opens in 1987 with the suspicious murder in the town of Thimbleweed Park, and two FBI agents (with more than a passing resemblance to a certain X-Files duo) are brought in to investigate. Straight away it’s clear something is up. The town’s sheriff is evasive, as is the remarkably similar looking coroner, and it’s hard to get a straight answer from anyone. You play through several flashbacks of various characters, and slowly piece together the story of the town and its odd inhabitants.

 

The gameplay is classic point and click. Before doing anything you need to select the appropriate verb (give, open, talk etc) and then the item or person. The interface will be instantly familiar to anyone who’s played these sorts of titles before, but for newcomers it will probably seem laborious. The developers seems conscious that they risk alienating the uninitiated, and throw players a bone with a ‘casual mode’, that makes the game easier, simplifying some of the more convoluted puzzles, or removing them altogether.

It’s a nice gesture, and although none of the puzzles devolve into anything too obscure, there are plenty of moments on the ‘hard’ setting that would have laptops flung across the room in sheer frustration for those that didn’t cut their teeth on the classics. Overall, the game brilliantly balances its difficulty to offer a decent challenge, but still remains fun. 

The switching between characters and their various tasks means that when you get stuck (and you will), you can take a break and follow someone else for a bit. When you come back to whatever stumped you, the answer is usually painfully clear. I spent a good hour trying to get past a staircase early on in the game, using every single combination of items, only for the (deceptively simple) answer to hit me later on in the day after some serious mulling. It's the sense of achievement that is unique to adventure games.

Many of the LucasArts games were notorious for their wry sense of humour and fourth wall breaking, and Thimbleweed Park is no exception. The jokes come thick and fast, and while they don’t all hit, the sheer wealth of the material means you’re not waiting too long before a line gets a laugh. A lot of the humour is referential (there’s a whole sub-plot about getting a job as a game developer at ‘MmucasFlem Games’), and chances are that new players will miss out on a fair chunk of the gags. For seasoned players though, the game offers a continuous nostalgic embrace, as it mischievously slaps a ‘Kick Me’ sign on your back.

The cast of characters is wide and varied, with several standouts (most notably the foul-mouthed Ransome the Clown, affected by a curse that means he can’t remove his make-up), but none of them hit the peaks of the genre, and the two main protagonists, FBI agents Ray and Reyes, are the most vanilla of the lot, feeling like simple conduits for the player. It seems a petty complaint, but with the rest of the game so brilliantly hitting all the right notes, the lack of truly iconic characters is notable. 

For anyone with an interest in point and click adventure games, Thimbleweed Park is a must. It easily holds its own alongside the classics of the genre, and feels like a time capsule from a golden era in gaming. For newer players without any frame of reference, it’s a much tougher sell. Arguably, the game isn’t made with them in mind, and although the casual mode makes concessions, at its core it’s still a very traditional game that won’t appeal to everyone. These people have my utmost sympathy, because they’re really missing out.

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