Thimbleweed Park marks a glorious return to adventure gaming’s golden age.
As a longtime fan of the point-and-click genre, and more specifically the classic LucasArts adventures of old, Thimbleweed Park is a title I’ve had my eyes on for quite some time. A product of LucasArts alumni Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick, the duo responsible for such iconic SCUMM-powered releases as Maniac Mansion and The Secret of Monkey Island, Thimbleweed Park is a throwback to the glory days of adventure gaming. In fact, the developers let you know from the outset that you’re about to experience the “best game you never played in 1987”. And after spending about six hours unraveling the strange town’s many secrets, I think I’m inclined to agree.
After all, Thimbleweed Park doesn’t feel like a simple love letter to golden era of the adventure genre, when studios like LucasArts and Sierra On-Line were at the top of their game. Sure, you’ll find more cheeky references to classics like Day of the Tentacle, Monkey Island, and the aforementioned Maniac Mansion than you can shake a feather duster at (you dairy farmer, you), but these loving nods are merely icing on Thimbleweed Park’s nostalgia-laced cake. Even without resting on its considerable pedigree, what we have here is a masterfully crafted romp that feels more than able to stand beside the games that it draws its inspiration from.
Thimbleed Park’s story begins after a mysterious murder unfolds on the outskirts of the game’s titular town. Following the murder, FBI special agents Ray and Reyes are called in to investigate the killing in the quaint podunk. And let me tell you, Thimblewed Park is certainly one hell of a strange place. For starters, the locals share an almost cult-like admiration for Chuck, the recently-deceased inventor and owner of the town’s beloved pillow factory. Chuck’s whirring machines automate everything nearly everything in town, from fire hydrants to movie rentals, and even law enforcement. You’ll also run into a number of colorful characters, such as a shady pair of plumbers in pigeon suits who ramble about strange signals in the air, and a clown with a cursed face and a salty demeanor that would make Andrew Dice Clay blush. It’s a delightfully quirky concoction that feels equal parts The X-Files and Twin Peaks, albeit with a very LucasArts-inspired flavor. If you’ve got a taste for the bizarre, you’ll probably find Thimbleweed Park right up your alley.
If you’ve ever played a SCUMM-based game before, you’ll feel right at home with Thimbleweed Park. Navigating the game world is as simple as clicking where you want to go. And a selection of verbs in the bottom UI give you a variety of ways you can interact with the objects you collect and the world around you. You’ll often need to combine items in some pretty inventive ways to solve the various puzzles that serve as roadblocks during your investigation. Thankfully, these puzzles, while clever, are never too cryptic. And they generally won’t keep you stumped for too long. My favorite puzzle involved a multi-step solution for removing unstamped postage stamps my character needed to mail out her job application to MucusPlegmm Games (get it?). Without spoiling the fun, the puzzle forced me to use some kitchen appliances in some unconventional ways. In fact, when the solution hit me I thought for sure that my method would never work, and had to be the methods of a madman. However, lo and behold it worked, and the feeling of satisfaction that washed over me when I walked out of that kitchen clutching a pair of postage stamps was sublime. Moments like this are what great puzzle design is all about, and Gilbert & Co. have done a great job of making each puzzle you encounter on your journey similarly entertaining without being too esoteric. And if you’re ever too stumped about what you should be doing, the game nudges you along with audio cues from your protagonist, and a handy notebook always highlights a checklist of what you need to accomplish with each character.
Speaking of characters, the early portion of Thimbleweed Park I got to experience put me in the shoes of a wide variety of interesting characters. Special investigators Ray and Reyes are the main focus of the adventure. Ray is a straight-laced and no-nonsense professional who never wastes an opportunity to take pot shots at her partner Reyes, who plays a more freewheeling character who’s quick to dole out some Dale Cooper-inspired quips about “damn fine” coffee and pies. Those aren’t the only two characters you’ll play as, however. During my time with the game I also found myself in the clown shoes of Ransome, a foul-mouthed clown forced to deal with some instant karma, and Delores, the niece of Thimbleweed Park’s pillow magnate Chuck, who seeks to leave the family business behind to blaze her own path as a game developer. I found each of the characters you control to be interesting in their own way, with Delores’ probably being my favorite of the bunch, what with her blazing fast Commodore 64 and passion for adventure games. Yep, Delores and I are kindred spirits.
Thimbleweed Park may wear its 1980’s roots proudly on its sleeve, but that doesn’t mean the developers haven’t evolved the formula in a meaningful way. On the contrary, they’ve actually trimmed the fat in many areas, doing away with the things that made adventuring a bit less fun back in the day. For starters, pixel hunting is one of the persistent problems in games of this nature. Ask anyone who’s played a fair share of point-and-click adventure games, and they’ll tell you that there’s nothing more frustrating than losing hours of progress just because you didn’t hover your cursor over just the right spot in a particular screen to find the item you needed to advance. While Thimbleweed Park isn’t entirely free of this infamous phenomenon, it’s at least kept to a minimum. It’s also impossible to die or make a mistake that will render it impossible to complete the story. This means you won’t have to mash that “save” that save button, or worry about maintaining multiple save files to ensure you never get hopelessly stuck. This is still a tried-and-true adventure game, mind you. But these smart concessions do go a long way towards making Thimbleweed Park feel a bit more modern and forgiving than some other point-and-click adventures. That’s right, I’m looking at you, King’s Quest!
I had high hopes going into this early build of Thimbleweed Park. And after spending my first five or so hours with the game, I’m happy to say that it’s easily surpassed my expectations. From the charming cast of characters to the irresistibly quirky setting and story, Thimbleweed Park really does look to be the best game we never played back in 1987. Only time will tell if the final product is able to deliver the goods. But if this early sample is any indication of what awaits us when the game releases in full later this year, fans of the point-and-click adventure genre are in for a real treat.
Thimbleweed Park is currently scheduled to release on the Xbox One and PC later this year. For up to date details on the game, be sure to visit the official page. And of course, be sure to stay tuned to Hey Poor Player for the latest news on this title as the game’s development wraps up.
So, are you fan of LucasArts’ classics who’s looking to dig into this nostalgic adventure? If so, be sure to let us know in the comments section.