During their tenure at Lucasfilm Games, Ron Gilbert, Gary Winnick and David Fox made some of the finest adventure games to date, and seeing them work together in 2017 on something new is a great thing. Thimbleweed Park is a work of brilliance, and could quite possibly be the best game they’ve produced; I’ve not seen such an intricately woven narrative or characters with such depth before, and the way everything comes together is a remarkable achievement from the team behind Maniac Mansion and Monkey Island.
Thimbleweed Park starts with a murder investigation; a body is found in a river on the outskirts of the town, and as Agent Ray and Agent Reyes, you must piece together what happened by speaking to the citizens of Thimbleweed Park, and finding the clues that will hopefully solve the case. Simple, right? Well, like everything in Thimbleweed Park, nothing is as straightforward as it seems, and the dead body of Boris Schultz becomes the backdrop for a much bigger story.
You’ll end up controlling a total of five characters, each with their own stories and personalities; Agent Angela Ray is a jaded and cynical senior agent, whilst Agent Antonio Reyes has his own secrets, but is a more upbeat and fresh-faced agent. Delores Edmund is a videogame designer, and Franklin Edmund is her dead father, murdered and left to haunt the hotel in which he died. Then there’s Ransome the *bleeping* Clown, an entertainer who made his mark insulting his audience, until he becomes cursed to wear his clown make-up for all eternity (and also loses everything he has, including his movie deal, mistress and fancy house).
All five playable characters bring something different to the table, each with a checklist of objectives you must tick off, and finding ways to do these provide real diversity to the game. It’s also interesting how each character feels so unique, and how possible it is to relate to each one. You end up feeling quite close to these characters, and even Ransome has traits you can understand, despite being an obnoxious mother *bleeper*.
You start off as the two agents, but as the story unfolds, you learn about many of Thimbleweed’s inhabitants, including Leonard the Quickie Pal clerk, Willie the hobo, and the Pigeon Brothers, who are actually sisters (obviously). Every character has a unique personality, and you’ll end up talking to them a lot. There’re plenty of dialogue choices when speaking to any of them, and you learn plenty about them as a person, and also many of the town’s darkest secrets. Some of the threads go off on a tangent, but never feel inconsequential or redundant to the plot, rather adding to this huge web of vibrancy in the game’s characterisation.
There are always clues laced within the dialogue, and many of the puzzles you have to decipher can be solved by simply listening; all of Thimbleweed Park’s conundrums require logic, no matter how cruel it can be, and you’ll probably be stumped on more than one occasion. One guarantee I can give, is no matter how long you’ve struggled on a particular puzzle, the moment you solve it and realise how makes sense every time. You’ll normally kick yourself, give a little smile, and move on to the next one.
Items are everywhere, and many will be useless, but many will serve a purpose. You may pick up some eye drops that have magical properties, a teddy bear prototype, a speck of dust or even toilet paper, and finding out what will be useful again can be put down to reason. In true point and click fashion, you’ll use a plethora of items to solve a mystery, and no matter how stupid it may be in hindsight, it’ll feel perfectly logical at the time (note: you can’t stick a scary zombie mask in front of a CCTV camera because the gum isn’t strong enough, duh).
The scale of Thimbleweed Park’s pixelated world is very impressive; whether you’re in the main town, the sewers, at the circus, scoping out the Edmund Estate or wandering around the hotel, there’s so much detail involved. Not just in the design, but in the things you can interact with and the people you can talk to. It’s a gorgeous world, pixelated to perfection and varied enough to make the hundredth trip to a certain area feel seldom boring. You understand the gravitas Thimbleweed Park had when the pillow factory was the town’s main source of income, and you feel the struggle many employees have as neighbouring businesses shut down and go out of business.
There’re plenty of references to old videogames, typical tropes, and even small tributes to Terrible Toybox’s origins, such as the name of the game developers Delores works for, and a tentacle appearing in the crowd at Ransome’s fateful performances. It doesn’t take itself seriously, and the jokes are funny – never forced or awkward. The writing all round is excellent, and with the humour being top notch, it was surprising to see some genuinely emotional moments I wasn’t expecting.
The Xbox One version is much trickier to control, with a simple click, combine, drag and drop taking twice as much time using the analogue sticks, and using the buttons to select command options isn’t straightforward at all. Switching between characters is a lot easier, as pressing the triggers switches instantaneously. It still looks great, and has all the same qualities as the PC version, but it’s so much easier to play Thimbleweed Park with a mouse and keyboard.
Thimbleweed Park is a game this generation needs, not for quenching nostalgic needs, but to show us just how great point and click adventure games can be in the right hands. Even though some of the puzzles can have you ripping your hair out, the satisfaction of solving is second to none. Terrible Toybox has put together a delightful game, and it would be a real shame if you were to miss out on the mysteries of Thimbleweed Park.
Characters are thoroughly interesting
Humour is genuine
Writing throughout is remarkable
Puzzles can be tough
We know you’re not holding, Leonard!