If you get stuck, call the hotline...
I love the adventure titles of the 1980s. Developers like Sierra and LucasArts put out brilliant, funny and very clever titles in the formative years of personal computers. So when the co-creator of the Monkey Island series Ron Gilbert set up a Kickstarter for Thimbleweed Park, a homage to those types of games, I was very excited. And I gotta say, I wasn’t let down by what I played. If you loved the PC adventure titles of 30 years ago, you’ll love Thimbleweed Park. If you didn’t, this probably isn’t for you.
At the beginning of the story, you are cast as two federal agents in the year 1987 who are looking to solve a murder of a famous person in the titular town. Like most mystery adventure games there are twists and turns along the way that put focus on a number of people who could be behind the crime. As you progress, you’ll eventually be in control of five characters, some with their own connection to the town and to the murder that the federal agents are investigating. The two agents, Ray and Reyes, put off vibes similar to that of Mulder and Scully from the X-Files. But the other characters that come into the story are pretty different from one another, making it a completely different experience than that or other similar TV shows.
The gameplay is very much like the LucasArts adventure games of yesteryear -- using verb commands shown at the bottom of the screen. Puzzles are solved by roaming around areas, talking to people and picking up items that prove to be useful in later circumstances. Joy-Cons are used to control the action, or if you are in portable mode, you can use touch screen controls to interact with objects. The latter is actually easier to use as moving the cursor around to select items can be pretty annoying and doesn’t feel natural. With the touch screen, it’s less of a hassle. It’s times like these I wish I could use a mouse.
Like other adventure games of the era it’s paying homage to, Thimbleweed Park is rife with humor, a lot of it self-referential, all while highlighting the decade it takes place in. For longtime adventure genre fans, there’s tons of subtle references to Gilbert’s previous work, like Maniac Mansion and Secret of Monkey Island, and there’s lots of talk about a game company that sounds suspiciously like LucasArts. Even if you are new to the genre, Thimbleweed Park is charming enough on its own merits, filled with oddball characters and funny situations.
The one thing I have to point out about Thimbleweed Park is that at least gameplay wise, it’s designed with a focus on nostalgia. In other words, newbies to the genre will have a hard time adjusting to what will feel like archaic gameplay mechanics. While newer adventure developers have streamlined the process, emphasizing more on story, Thimbleweed Park is old school to the core, with both gameplay and storytelling on equal footing. Don’t expect it to hold your hand when it comes to solving puzzles, it can be tough to get through without a walkthrough. You can always call the in-game hint line, but it will just provide you a vague idea of what to do next.
Thimbleweed Park is a wonderful love letter about everything that made 1980s games great. The Switch probably has the best console version due to the touch screen controls, as the physical controls can be a chore if you’re playing on the TV. With such a focus maintained on nostalgia I’m not really sure someone who likes Telltale’s adventure games are going to appreciate Thimbleweed Park. Regardless, there’s enough humor and witty writing to keep gamers of all ages entertained.