Gaming

Thimbleweed Park – The review-a-reno

Two years after a Kickstarter promising a game that’ll give you a feeling of finding a long lost LucasArts (nee LucasFilm Games) adventure, we finally have Thimbleweed Park. And through my own experience playing the game I think it succeeds in not only presenting to players a style of game that is reminiscent of that era in its presentation but the writing totally fits the mould with bizarre characters and self referential humour that will bring a smile to fans of the genre.

The story is set in the town of the game’s title back in the year 1987 and begins with a man about to be murdered. Federal Agents Ray and Reyes are sent to the scene to investigate, each with their own secret agendas. As it turns out, there’s more to Thimbleweed Park than just a dead guy and a pillow factory. And there are a few other stories to tell too.

Like all good mysteries (it seems), the story of Thimbleweed Park starts with a dead body.

For those gamers more used to adventures in the style of The Walking Dead, this will feel like a much more sedate experience. TWD focused on character interactions and the odd action event to create deviations from a single narrative. Point and click adventures of the Lucas variety tended to keep the story focused but would litter it with puzzles and obstacles that required your wits to overcome.

It does require a different mindset to play and perhaps a considerable amount of patience too, but each puzzle you figure out to advance you through the game feels like a real accomplishment. It certainly creates plenty of watercooler moments if you have a couple of friends playing the game at the same time.

I wonder if they will tell me about LOOM..

It’s pretty cool to think that the game’s designers Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick (of Maniac Mansion and Monkey Island fame) have avoided changing too much with the user interface when there must been some incentive to update it.

Having the UI floating over the lower half of the screen with a list of verbs and inventory still works in terms of revealing the game’s mechanics to new players. The game gives you plenty of feedback in what you can and can’t do so you soon get an idea of what is possible.

There is a tutorial included at the start of the game which is a concession that has never existed before but in an era of digital games with no printed instructions it is perfectly adequate.

Tip: Always keep an eye on the character icon in the top right of the screen. Not only does it let you switch between the characters you have available but might flash at times to prompt you something has happened that requires you to try someone else. It might save you quite a few minutes of frustration.

I don't think it can be an adventure game without a circus in it.

I don’t think it can be an adventure game without a circus in it.

The puzzles you’ll encounter will certainly make your stop and think if you choose to play the game on the hard setting. Though I’m a player who is familiar with past games of this type I’m still getting caught out but the game does appear to do a pretty good job of providing hints to help steer you in the right direction. Though don’t expect to fly through the game on your first try if you dive into the deep end.

I’d even go so far as to say it might be one of the best examples of how to handle hints in a point and click adventure because even in the times I’ve been stuck I’d eventually get that little nugget of information that would help. There’s still a lot of trial and error here and you are bound to be frustrated a few times as you try to figure out what you are doing but it comes with the territory.

One thing I seriously love about the game are all the jokes and references dotted throughout it. Having an adventure game argue about the merits of adventurer game design is just great even if it reminds me I am old enough to have played these very games when they were new. With secrets dotted around as well as some really neat contributions by many of the game’s backers there is no shortage of things to check out while you play.

So, so true…

Graphically Thimbleweed Park uses a similar pixelated look of the games it draws inspiration from (think 256 color VGA) but when you see it in motion you’ll notice that the developers have embraced the benefits of modern hardware too. Some huge colour palettes, clever lighting, oodles of scrolling and a few fun visual tricks (see Ransome’s tilting caravan) add to what is already a great looking game.

The game is fully voiced and has a full soundtrack behind it that does a really nice job of making me think back to the CD-ROM “talkie” versions of adventures and MIDI music tracks. I don’t know if it ever was intentional but it always felt to me like the characters you controlled in this style of adventure would talk through you to the world. The voice actors always seemed to play to that which helped to reinforce that feeling.

It’s worth noting that the game runs lighting fast on a decent machine with both quick load times and transitions between areas. You should feel pretty confident that it will run on anything you throw it at. The Steam version supports cloud saves as does the Xbox One version with Xbox Play Anywhere (when the Windows 10 version ships).

While Doublefine’s Broken Age attempted to bring this genre back to the forefront in 2015 with a modern sheen and is quite a good game, I feel that Thimbleweed Park is much more successful at it by fully embracing the nostalgia and giving fans a game that feels like a classic adventure in all the right ways… and with the kind of polish that the systems of today can provide too.

I’m having a great time with Thimbleweed Park. I’ve actually stopped playing a couple of other games in my backlog (including Mass Effect Andromeda) to get through it first which I think is a very good sign of how much I like it. 🙂

Thimbleweed Park is developed by Terrible Toybox and is out now for PC and Xbox One. Coming soon to Windows 10, PlayStation 4, iOS and Android. Reviewed on PC.

The greatest tease in gaming?

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