Review: Thimbleweed Park
Developer: Terrible Toybox
Publisher: Terrible Toybox
Platforms: Linux, PC, iOS, Android, Xbox One, PS4
Oh boy, have I been waiting forever for a game like Thimbleweed Park. A retro-inspired point-and-click adventure from Ron Gilbert (Maniac Mansion, The Secret of Monkey Island) and Gary Winnick (also Maniac Mansion) Thimbleweed Park is clever, engaging and full of classic gameplay. It’s a shame then, that despite filling me with nostalgia and a strong urge to hurl my wallet at any future Kickstarter campaign that Gilbert and Winnick might run, that the game feels incomplete. Strap yourself in, adventure fans, this one gets weird.
The game opens with a German tourist trekking through a dark trail in the Thimbleweed Park outskirts. After receiving a mysterious letter at his hotel, Boris follows its instructions and heads to the sewer entrance for a meeting – one that will ultimately end his life. After Boris allows players to experience the opening tutorial, he is struck over the head by the entrance to the Thimbleweed sewers, then dragged to his doom in the nearby river.
The next scene sees Agent Ray and Agent Reyes meeting each other to work together and solve Boris’ murder. Boris’ identity, however, remains a mystery, as his wallet and any identification is missing. In a town as bizarre as Thimbleweed Park, anyone could be a suspect. Why is no one shocked or upset by the body by the river? Why is everyone so weird? And what the heck is up with the pillow-turned robotics factory and its “Tron” machines?
Gameplay will be immediately familiar to anyone who played early adventure games from LucasArts such as Maniac Mansion, The Secret of Monkey Island or the Indiana Jones adventure games. Players move their cursor around the screen, and point where they want to go. They have a number of actions selectable via the bottom of the screen such as “pull”, “push”, “look at” and “pick up”, or they’re able to right-click on things to use a suggested action.
The classic gameplay of the late 80’s adventure era still holds up today, though I will admit that having the bottom third or so of the screen taken up by commands feels obtrusive, but this is a game that has a firm grip on an era gone by, with no interest in embracing every aspect of modern game design – much like Playtonic’s Yooka-Laylee. The recent The Secret of Monkey Island remake employed a minimalist user interface, where players used a cursor to move the game’s protagonist around as well as interact with items. If they needed to, they could bring up a classic commands board, though the cursor’s suggested actions worked fine for the most part. A similar control method could have easily been implemented in Thimbleweed Park.
From the get-go, Thimbleweed Park is strange. A good strange, like Twin Peaks and The X-Files. Every character in the game is truly a character – there’s the stoner store attendant, the bum with a grudge, Coroner/Sheriff/Hotel Manager. Yes, the sheriff is also the Coroner and moonlights as a hotel manager at night. He insists that he isn’t all three people and that all three are very much a different person, and even goes to such lengths as to give each role he plays a different signature catchphrase like adding “a-reno” or “a-boo” on the end of words.
Despite leaving you wanting more, more than a few of Thimbleweed Park‘s characters are single-use – you’ll just get introduced to them and then quickly move on after a single moment. Unlike The Secret of Monkey Island where you’ll get to know each character through multiple interactions that ultimately prove to be quite clever, Thimbleweed quite often uses its characters as item dispensers for puzzles. “Go here, meet this person, get their item, move on”.
The puzzles themselves, however, are quite enjoyable – with that old school sense of reward that only a classic adventure game can offer. There are two difficulty options available in case people want to experience the narrative unfold without out too many difficult puzzles possibly halting your progress. This is where Thimbleweed shines, though even on the higher difficulty it won’t challenge experienced adventure gamers – not that it necessarily has to.
I will say at this point I was thoroughly disappointed with the game’s ending – to the point of anger. It felt like an absolute cop-out and not at all like something the developers would have had in mind when they began developing the game. Yes, there are times where a developer has run out of time or money to develop a title but this is a game that made almost double its initial funding goal on Kickstarter. The ending simply isn’t justified or fair on backers in my opinion.
It becomes apparent after the first few acts of the game that something isn’t quite right with Thimbleweed Park – by which I mean the game more so than the town. There’s just something lacking in every aspect of the game. The story is unsatisfying, the voice acting is at times atrocious and there are times where the puzzles simply feel like a mild inconvenience solved by simply swapping characters – you can even finish the game without having to resolve each character’s story arch, which makes you wonder why you bothered trying to invest yourself into the game at all.
Thimbleweed Park could have been an instant classic, but instead it feels like it barely made it past its concept development stage. The wit and charm of the Monkey Island games is entirely absent, with all manner of potential being squandered by Terrible Toybox. I have no doubt that they could make a modern retro adventure game to rival the likes of classic Lucasfilm/LucasArts games, but Thimbleweed Park isn’t it.
|Thimbleweed Park comes close to being a must-have game for both old school adventure fans and modern gamers, but falls short in every department. The game itself admits it could be better and tries to make light of it by absolutely obliterating the fourth wall, though all this does is rub salt into the wound. Truly, a shame.||2.6 2.6 ( on 5 rating)|